Skills, IBM i, Power8, And The Gathering Of Clouds
May 27, 2014 Dan Burger
The problem-solving approach to IT, with its emphasis on services, is the new face of IBM. It’s not exactly new, but the strategy of making this more than a slogan takes time as well as the enthusiastic buy-in of the business partner channel, which has always had a hardware-powered business model since the dawn of enterprise computing. I hear a lot of people mumbling that it takes hardware to run software, but business solutions are more closely associated with skills.
Skills matter more than the speeds and feeds of any system. On one level the system is a commodity. On a higher level, the system is incredibly complex. At either level, it’s the technical skills that differentiate and actually solve problems. It’s at the skills level that most companies need help. It’s at the skills level where IBM and its business partners expect the future of IT competitive advantage will be won and lost.
Solving business problems is bringing business knowledge to the discussion and understanding the difference between knowing how and where to apply a product compared to only knowing what the product does and what level it performs. Focus the discussions on solving business issues. It sounds simple, but it’s not.
This is a fundamental change that moves the skills from in-house to outsourced.
Marc Dupaquier, general manager of IBM’s global business partners, has seen the partner channel changing. It hasn’t happened with the flip of a switch, but if you compress the years it may seem like lightning fast. At IBM’s Edge2014 conference last week, Dupaquier discussed channel changes and the challenges of navigating from business as usual to business that is proactive and prepared for the future.
One of his concerns is a familiar story. The independent software vendors (ISVs) need to be encouraged to upgrade their software to run on Power7+ and Power8 hardware and IBM i 7.1 and 7.2 versions of the operating system. As is always the case, the larger ISVs are mostly current, which keeps them in the good graces of the mother ship. The smaller ISVs, which typically cater to the smaller IBM i shops, are not in that much of a rush. Experience tells them their customers won’t be jumping to the latest and greatest hardware and operating system for at least another year and maybe two . . . or more. There’s been little risk involved with taking a slow and go approach in the past.
Is that still a safe bet?
Dupaquier says there is reason to believe the evolution of IT makes waiting a greater risk. And that reason is the cloud.
“The cloud is an advantage for ISVs that have good applications, but see their potential new clients as not wanting to buy a new Power box and IBM i,” Dupaquier says. “The answer is to make the app available on the cloud and then the system it runs on doesn’t make any difference.”
An ISV that wants its application to run in the cloud needs to bring its software up to the latest technology, which is Power8 and i 7.2. Most of the managed service providers (MSPs) will be hosting with the latest technology. They won’t be running optimized, multi-tenant environments on old iron.
Although the cloud does offer advantages as Dupaquier says, there are still licensing difficulties that put the brakes on cloud intentions. Not so much on the software as a service side, but more so on the infrastructure as a service and platform as a service options in hosted environments. Software vendors as a group have not come to a consensus a pricing structure and rights belonging to the vendor versus rights belonging to the customer are all over the board. The result of all that is a reluctance to rush to the cloud for many software companies.
On the positive side, we’ve seen IBM lining up technology investments in the IBM i cloud. The list includes PowerVM, Smart Cloud management products, and live partition mobility. There have also been investments from the managed service providers and the independent software vendors. IBM sales and marketing teams are also on the scene, which takes this beyond a development exercise.
Dupaquier describes the global business partner activity as taking on the role of match makers. They match ISVs and MSPs, Power i capabilities and i providers.
“We have reinvigorated the ISV upgrade project for Power8,” he says. “We are upgrading MSPs and the ISVs to bring their software up to the latest technology. We have projects like this in every country.”
The maturity (or immaturity) of the cloud market plays a role that will evolve into something a bit different than what we see today, according to Dupaquier.
“Many people who are building their own clouds and selling space will eventually turn to IBM,” he predicts. “I use the car industry as an analogy. When the car industry was just beginning, everyone was a car maker. Eventually companies realized there was no economy of scale, which is realized by only the largest companies. It’s the same with the cloud. Many of those who built a cloud will eventually become cloud brokers for IBM.”
What we are seeing with the SoftLayer program is an indicator of this. It is moving into the VAR channel and should attract customers who view it as a safer bet because it has IBM behind it.
IBM will offer bare-metal slices of Power Systems machines within the SoftLayer cloud in the coming months. It already offers Power Systems infrastructure services on the SmartCloud Enterprise+ cloud. And there are numerous third-party suppliers of hosted and cloud services.