So what exactly should IBM do, and have done?

Now that IBM has ended its revenue losing streak, we’re ready to stick a halo on it:

There is no doubt, though, that there are signs of progress at IBM, which would not comment on its financial picture before the release of the earning report. So much attention is focused on the company’s top line because revenue is the broadest measure of the headway IBM is making in a difficult transformation toward cloud computing, data handling and A.I. offerings for corporate customers.

The new businesses — “strategic imperatives,” IBM calls them — now account for 45 percent of the company’s revenue. And though it still has a ways to go, IBM has steadily built up those operations — and gained converts.

Over all those quarters, there hasn’t been that much good analysis of “what went wrong” at IBM in so much as I haven’t really read much about what IBM should have been doing. What did we expect from them? What should they be doing now and in the future? I don’t know the answers, but I’m damn curious.

“State your deal.”

Since the mid-2000’s, all tech companies have been shit on for not getting to and dominating public cloud faster (there are exceptions like Adobe that get lost in the splurty noise of said shitting on). Huge changes have happened at companies HP/HPE and Dell/EMC/VMware (where I work happily at Pivotal, thank you very much), and you can see Oracle quarterly dance-adapting to the new realities of enterprise IT spending.

For the past 8 or 10 years I’ve had a rocky handle on what it is that IBM sell exactly, and in recent years their marketing around it has been fuzzy.  Try to answer the question “so what is it, exactly, that IBM sells?” A good companion is, “why do customers choose IBM over other options?”

You can’t say “solutions” or “digital transformation.” (I’m aware of some black kettle over here, but I and any Pivotal person could tell you exactly the SKUs, tools, and consulting we sell, probably on an index card). I’m pretty sure some people in IBM know, but the press certainly doesn’t know how the fuck to answer that question (with some exception at The Register and from TPM, grand sage of all IBM coverage).

I’ve been a life-long follower of IBM: my dad worked at the Austin campus, it was a major focus at RedMonk, and, you know, just being in the enterprise tech industry gets your face placed facing Armonk frequently. I feel like I know the company pretty well and have enough of an unnatural fascination to put up with spelunking through them when I get the chance; IBMers seem pleasantly bewildered when the first thing I ask them to do is explain the current IBM hierarchy and brand structure.

But I couldn’t really explain what their deal is now. I mean, I get it: enterprise outsourcing, BPaaS (or did they sell all that off?), some enterprise private cloud and the left over public cloud stuff, mainframe, a bunch of branded middleware (MQ, WebSphere, DB2, etc.) that they seem forbidden to mention by name, and “Watson.”

There are clear products & services (right?)

 

When I’ve been involved in competitive situations with IBM over the years, what they’re selling is very, very straight forward: outsourcing, software, and a sense of dependability. But the way they’re talked about in the press is all buzzwordy weirdness. I’m sure blockchain and AI could be a big deal, but their on and off success at doing something everyday, practical with it is weird.

Or, it could just be the difficulty of covering it, explaining it, productizing, and then marketing it. “Enterprise solutions” often amounts to individually customized strategy, programs, and implementations for companies (as it should, most of the time), so you can’t really wrap a clear-cut SKU around that. It’s probably equally hard to explain it to financial analysts.

So, what’s their deal?

Cumulative capex spend by Google, Amazon, and Microsoft since 2001.
How much is that public cloud in the window?

Anyhow, I don’t come here to whatnot IBM (genuinely, I’ve always liked the company and still hope they figure it out), but more out of actual curiosity to hear what they should have been doing and what they should do now. Here’s some options:

  1. The first option is always “stay on target, stay on target,” which is to say we just need to be patient and they’ll actually become some sort of “the business of AI/ML, blockchain, and the same old, useful stuff of improving how companies run IT.” I mean, sure. In that case, going private is probably a good idea. The coda to this is always “things are actually fine, so shut the fuck up with your negativity. Don’t kill my vibe!” And if this it true, IBM just needs some new comms/PR strategies and programs.
  2. You could say they should have done public cloud better and (like all the other incumbent tech companies except Microsoft), just ate it. What people leave out of this argument is that they would have had to spend billions (and billions) of dollars to build that up over the past 10 years. Talk about a string of revenue loosing quarters.
  3. As I’m fiddling around with, they could just explain themselves better.
  4. They should have gotten into actual enterprise applications, SaaS. Done something like bought Salesforce, merged with SAP, who knows. IBM people hated it when you suggested this.
  5. The always ambiguous “management sucks.” Another dumb answer that has to be backed up not with missed opportunities and failures (like public cloud), but also proving that IBM could have been successful there in the first place (e.g., with public cloud, would Wall Street have put up with them loosing billions for years to build up a cloud?)

I’m sure there’s other options. Thinking through all this would be illustrative of how the technology industry works (and not the so called tech industry, the real tech industry).

(Obviously, I’m in a weird position working at Pivotal who sells against IBM frequently. So, feel free to dismiss all this if you’re thinking that, now that you’ve read this swill, you need to go put on a new tin-foil hat because your current one is getting a tad ripe.)

IBM’s new Private Cloud Stack, it’s got the Kubernetes & Containers

This week, Big Blue rolled out its new IBM Cloud Private software platform that is designed to enable enterprises to develop on-premises private cloud environments to accelerate app development and allow for easier movement of workloads between their private clouds and public clouds – not only the IBM Cloud but also those from other vendors. Similarly, IBM is leaning on open and container-based technologies for enhanced integration and portability of workloads. The IBM Cloud Private platform is built on Kubernetes, an open-source technology for container orchestration, and will support both Docker containers and Cloud Foundry framework.

More:

IBM Cloud Private can run on a variety of infrastructures, including the vendor’s own mainframe and Power systems, its hyperconverged infrastructure that runs Nutanix software, and IBM Storage’s Spectrum Access solution. In addition, it can run on systems from Dell EMC, Lenovo, Cisco Systems and NetApp, and can be deployed by such VMware, Canonical and other OpenStack distributions as well as bare-metal systems. The private cloud platform also includes such developer services for data analytics as Db2, Db2 Warehouse, PostgreSQL and MongoDB, developer tools like Netcool, UrbanCode, and Cloud Brokerage and open-source management software such as Jenkins, Prometheus, Grafana, and ElasticSearch.

Source: IBM Builds Private Cloud Stack With Kubernetes And Containers

American Airlines is a good profile of enterprise cloud buyer’s needs, hopes & dreams – Notebook

While this is sort of a bummer story for Pivotal (we’d like to have this account), it has a good profile of American and their needs in it. All of which are representative of other large organizations, e.g.:

  • Application types: “The first result is that the airline will migrate to the IBM Cloud some of its critical applications, including the main website, its customer-facing mobile app and its global network of check-in kiosks. Other workloads and tools, such as the company’s Cargo customer website, also will be moved to the IBM Cloud.”
  • Managed data-centers/cloud: “The airline will be able to utilize the global footprint of IBM Cloud, which consists of more than 50 data centers in 17 countries, in addition to a wide range of application development capabilities.”
  • Long-term planning: “We wanted to make sure that the cloud provider would be using Cloud Foundry and open-source technologies so we don’t get locked in by proprietary solutions,” Grubbs said. “We also wanted a partner that would offer us the agility to innovate at the organizational and process levels and have deep industry expertise with security at the core.”
  • We want to do all the new meat-ware: “As part of this process, American will work with IBM Global Services to use IBM’s Garage Methodology of creating applications through a micro-services architecture, design thinking, agile methodology, DevOps and lean development, the company said.”
  • Legacy, it’s how you got here: “IBM Cloud will help enable developers to build and change application functionalities for the airline’s customers. These customer-facing systems will be on the IBM Public Cloud, while American will maintain backend connectivity to other on-premise legacy and third-party systems, for true Hybrid Cloud functionality.”
  • There’s a lot going on: “American Airlines and its subsidiary, American Eagle, offer an average of 6,700 flights per day to about 350 destinations in more than 50 countries. American has hubs in Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, Phoenix and Washington, D.C.”

Source: American Airlines Heads for a New Cloud with IBM

Highlights from: IBM’s continuing quest to refresh its revenue mix

TPM has one of his usual, great round-ups of IBM’s business:

For the full 2016 year, IBM’s revenues were off 2.1 percent to $79.85 billion, but its “real” systems business, which includes servers, storage, switching, systems software, databases, transaction monitors, and tech support and financing for its own iron, fell by 8.3 percent to $26.1 billion.

Changing the revenue mix:

IBM’s efforts to promote SoftLayer cloud and Watson cognitive computing, mobile and social and marketing software and tools, and security wares – what it calls its strategic imperatives – are almost filling in the gap left behind as the core businesses shrink. IBM wanted these strategic imperative businesses to reach $40 billion and 40 percent of revenues by 2018, and in this quarter it already hit the 40 percent mark, with $33 billion in revenues for 2016–as much because of its overall revenue decline as for the growth in these businesses.

And, some info on their hardware revenue:

IBM sold just over $8 billion in Systems products, and brought $934 million to the middle line as pre-tax income

Also:

Schroeter said that Linux-based Power Systems machines now drove 15 percent of revenues, and that is pretty good considering that two years ago it was a few percent of sales.

Source: ”Drilling Down Into IBM’s System Group”( https://www.itjungle.com/2017/01/23/drilling-ibms-system-group/)

AI market sizing: $39bn in growth in less than 3 years?!

The market — defined as A.I.-related hardware, software and services — will surge from $8 billion this year to $47 billion by 2020, predicts IDC, a research firm.

Uh…

Also, some coverage of Watson business models, including customized cocktail drugs, which I hear is a scary big business in the horizon.

And, there’s some IBM AI spreadsheeting you can fiddle around with:

Market-share:

IBM may have a chance to join that group. By 2020, IDC predicts, 60 percent of the A.I. applications will run on the platform of four companies: Amazon, Google, Microsoft and IBM.

Revenue:

UBS estimates that Watson may generate $500 million in revenue this year and could grow rapidly in the years ahead, possibly hitting nearly $6 billion by 2020 and almost $17 billion by 2022.

Having lived through The Great Cloud Forecasting era around the turn of the decade, my advice is: take all this with care, but enjoy the razzle-dazzle!

Source: IBM Is Counting on Its Bet on Watson, and Paying Big Money for It

Linux killed Sun?

For the Sun: WTF? files:

Gerstner questioned whether three or four years from now any proprietary version of Unix, such as Sun’s Solaris, will have a leading market position.

One of the more popular theories for the decline of Sun is that they accepted Linux way, way too late. As a counter-example, there’s IBM saying that somewhere around 2006 you’d see the steep decline of the Unix market, including Solaris, of course.

If I ever get around to writing that book on Sun, a chart showing server OS market-share from 2000 to 2016 would pair well with that quote.

If you’ve read Stephen’s fine book, The New Kingmakers, you may recall this relevant passage:

In 2001, IBM publicly committed to spending $1 billion on Linux. To put this in context, that figure represented 1.2% of the company’s revenue that year and a fifth of its entire 2001 R&D spend. Between porting its own applications to Linux and porting Linux to its hardware platforms, IBM, one of the largest commercial technology vendors on the planet, was pouring a billion dollars into the ecosystem around an operating system originally written by a Finnish graduate student that no single entity — not even IBM — could ever own. By the time IBM invested in the technology, Linux was already the product of years of contributions from individual developers and businesses all over the world.

How did this investment pan out? A year later, Bill Zeitler, head of IBM’s server group, claimed that they’d made almost all of that money back. “We’ve recouped most of it in the first year in sales of software and systems. We think it was money well spent. Almost all of it, we got back.”

Source: IBM to spend $1 billion on Linux in 2001 – CNET

The Amdahl Mug, worth $1m in 1989

It’s been a name-your-own-price market for canny buyers of IBM and compatible mainframes for some time now, but according to the Wall Street Journal, Amdahl Corp is making it easy for even the meekest DP manager to turn into a hard bargainer: it is giving big computer buyers an Amdahl coffee mug and telling them it’s worth $1m if they just leave it on their desk when their IBM salesman comes to call.

Source: THE AMDAHL COFFEE MUG EFFECT – Computer Business Review

CPI case study: IBM and SoftLayer would be greater together

Data from 451 Research’s Cloud Price Index suggests that IBM is missing a trick. By going all-in and baking SoftLayer with Bluemix, IBM would gain a leading position in the market in terms of completeness of services and global availability, as well as finally delivering a single user experience.

Owen over at 451 suggests that IBM hasn’t yet merged SoftLayer into Bluemix totally, missing out on a high ranking in cloud providers (by functionality, geographic availability, etc.). Also: “The company claims $10.2bn in cloud revenue, a growth rate of 46% Y/Y, and 20,000 new users per week.”

Source: CPI case study: IBM and SoftLayer would be greater together