Power Systems Is Now Cognitive Systems
January 30, 2017 Timothy Prickett Morgan
For as long as we can remember, every couple of years or so IBM has changed the executives that have been in charge of its midrange systems and over a slightly longer term, of maybe five to seven years, it has rebranded or somehow significantly changed the marketing message driving those midrange systems. It looks like 2017 might be a year for both.
In a series of brief internal memos put out by Ginni Rometty, the company’s president, chief executive officer, and chairman, and Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM Systems group, IBM is rejiggering its executive lineup and the divisions it has as it takes it technology to market. The latest reorganization did not, as far as we know, involve any layoffs above and beyond the usual and continuous background level of “workforce rebalancing” and “resource action” activity that Big Blue has engaged in for many years. We are still trying to sort out what significance, if any, the reorganization might have on the IBM i platform running on what used to be called Power Systems machinery and that could be rebranded with advent of Power9 machines later this year.
Here is the scoop.
In his post to the internal blog among employees who work for the IBM Systems group, Rosamilia announced that Doug Balog, who has been general manager of the Power Systems division for more than three years, would be not only moving back to the storage side of the business where he hailed from but would also be taking on a more direct sales role for IBM’s storage efforts. The Power Systems business has been under pressure thanks to the general decline in the Unix systems business in the past decade and a half, which continues, but with storage exploding, the incumbent system makers cannot count on captive storage bases anymore and the declines have been a lot sharper than for Unix-based Power Systems iron. We think the IBM i on Power Systems business stabilized a few years ago and is not shrinking much at all these days, and IBM has said that its Linux-based Power Systems sales are growing in the double digits and now represent 15 percent of revenues. We also think that Power Systems machines will soon reach 30 percent of the business, reflecting the market at large, and considering that Linux is the only growing operating system platform, we think that with the Power9 generation and beyond IBM has a chance to have a greater-than-fair share of Linux sales on Power iron, much as it has done well with Linux on the mainframe for the past decade.
But for now, storage is a big problem for Big Blue, and Balog is being brought in to help. This is how Rosamilia explained the situation:
I’m pleased to announce two important changes in our Systems leadership.
First, @Picciano, Robert J (Robert), previously senior vice president for IBM Analytics, is joining IBM Systems in the new role of senior vice president, Cognitive Systems, reporting to me. In this role, he will lead the Power business – taking it to the next level as we double down to disrupt X86 and make Power the platform for the cognitive era. With his leadership in transforming our data and analytics portfolio, Bob is ideally suited for this opportunity.
@Balog, Douglas (Doug), previously general manager for Power, has been critical to transforming the foundation for Power upon which we will build. Now he is taking on another critically important opportunity for us. In his new role as general manager, Storage Client Success, Doug will lead storage sales, reporting to me. He will work closely with @Walsh, Edward (Ed) to drive the next level of transformation in flash and software defined storage. Our storage clients represent a highly technical segment of the market where Doug’s leadership skills and clients insights will accelerate our progress in the field.
Together, @Carvao, Paulo H (Paulo) and Doug will share responsibility for our field and technical teams in Servers and Storage, respectively. Furthermore, in the context of the new IBM Offering and Field Operating Model, Paulo and Doug will have responsibility for Offering and Routes Performance in their respective segments.
Finally, it’s important to note that there are no changes in the field. The Geography and Market-based teams do not change and will continue to deploy according to 2017 guidance.
Please join me in congratulating Bob and Doug on their new roles in rapidly scaling our new products and solutions in the marketplace and enabling client success.”
The interesting bit there as far as we are concerned is that there is a new entity called Cognitive Systems which presumably will be the new brand that is eventually slapped on what we have been calling Power Systems for many years now and that we called AS/400s and RS/6000s, iSeries and pSeries, and System i and System p in succession since the turn of the millennium. It doesn’t look like IBM is going to rebrand the existing Power8-based Power Systems line as Cognitive Systems right now, but it is reasonable to think that the company will do this with the Power9-based machines expected sometime in the summer.
IBM is, of course, real big on this “cognitive” term, and it has created a group called Cognitive Solutions that sells all of its database, transaction processing, analytics, and related software (but oddly enough, not its Watson question-answer system, which is only available as a service, not a licensed product sold separately). Saying Transactional Systems (the systems of record that IBM talks about) is boring, and not entirely accurate, either, since the whole point about the Power resurgence is to expand into NoSQL databases, caching, and similar workloads that are typically parts of systems of engagement based on sentiment analysis and recommendation engines and machine learning. Saying High Performance Systems is also not an accurate possible name for Power Systems, either, although once again, IBM is trying to push Linux-on-Power to the supercomputing set and to get them fired up about hybrid CPU-GPU systems. Perhaps keeping the Power Systems name generic, as it is, was best, but that is not the way that IT companies work. They have to change things, even when they don’t have to.
We are not sure what IBM plans to add to Power Systems, in terms of software or services, to create Cognitive Systems, but we think it just means Power hardware and software that is tuned to support modern workloads. We think that perhaps IBM should have just called it OpenPower Systems and tried to push that brand instead, and it would have been even better if as part of the reorganization IBM not only used that brand but made a commitment to make one-socket and two-socket Power Systems LC machines that run Linux well (and Linux only) also able to support IBM i and AIX, if not in bare metal mode then at least on the OpenKVM hypervisor that IBM has created. This is a big ask, but we are still holding out hope that this is indeed the plan for the Power9 hardware. The OpenPower brand is broad enough and well known enough, and maybe even any Power8 or Power9 system sold by any vendor should carry the OpenPower brand.
At some point, we will get Bob Picciano on the horn and ask him about this. In the meantime, this is what CEO Rometty had to say about the situation:
“We are aggressively reinventing our systems portfolio for cloud, data and AI. The centerpiece of Cognitive Systems is our Power franchise, which is vital to so many clients and ecosystem partners. Having envisioned and transformed our data and analytics portfolio, Bob is ideally suited for this role. Last November we brought together Watson and our public cloud platform. Now we will take this opportunity to combine Robert and Bob’s portfolios and form the Hybrid Cloud business.”
So, what we glean from that statement is that the cross-divisional IBM Analytics group, which includes all of the various Cognos, SPSS, BigInsights, Netezza, and other stuff to chew on data and try to gain insights from it, are now being mashed up with the IBM Cloud public cloud business where IBM parked the Watson Q-A services last year, to create one uber-group called IBM Hybrid Cloud. Arvind Krishna, who has had many key roles in IBM and who most recently spearheaded the development of the PureSystem modular systems, is now senior vice president in change of this enlarged Hybrid Cloud business. Krishna is also director of IBM Research, which is a pretty hefty job in its own right, and reports to John Kelly, who has run IBM Research for many years and who is now senior vice president of Cognitive Solutions and IBM Research.
The merger of the IBM Cloud and the IBM Analytics businesses was caused by the retirement of longtime Software Group executive Robert LeBlanc, who is retiring in June and who was for the past two years in charge of the IBM Cloud public cloud and hosting businesses.
These executive changes take effect on February 1. We will no doubt see IBM’s evolving Cognitive Systems plan over the coming months.