Every year I attend IBM software analyst meeting. It is an opportunity to gain a snap shot of what the leadership team is thinking and saying. Since I have had the opportunity to attend many of these events over the year, it is always instructive to watch the evolution of IBM’s software business over the years.
So, what did I take away from this year’s conference? In many ways, it was not that much difference in what I experienced last year. And I think that is good. When you are a company of the size of IBM you can’t lurch from one strategy to the next and expect to survive. One of the advantages that IBM has in the market is that has a well developed roadmap that it is in the process of executing on. It is not easy to execute when you have as many software components as IBM does in its software portfolio.
While it isn’t possible to discuss all that I learned in my various discussions with IBM executives, I’d like to focus on IBM’s solutions strategy and its impact on the software portfolio. From my perspective, IBM has made impressive strides in enforcing a common set of services that underlie its software portfolio. It has been a complicated process that has taken decades and is still a work in progress. The result required that all of the business units within software are increasingly working together to provide underlying services to each other. For example, Tivoli provides management services to Rational and Information Management provides data management services to Tivoli. WebSphere provides middleware and service orientation to all of the various business units. Because of this approach, IBM is better able to move to a solutions focus.
It’s about the solutions.
In the late 1990s IBM got out of the applications business in order to focus on middleware, data management, and systems management. This proved to be a successful strategy for the next decade. IBM made a huge amount of money selling WebSphere, DB2, and Tivoli offerings for SAP and Oracle platforms. In addition, Global Services created a profitable business implementing these packaged applications for enterprises. But the world has begun to change. SAP and Oracle have both encroached on IBM’s software business. Some have criticized IBM for not being in the packaged software business. While IBM is not going into the packaged software business, it is investing a vast amount of money, development effort, and marketing into the “solutions” business.
How is the solutions business different than a packaged application? In some ways they are actually quite similar. Both provide a mechanism for codifying best practices into software and both are intended to save customers time when they need to solve a business problem. IBM took itself out of the packaged software business just as the market was taking off. Companies like SAP, Oracle, Seibel, PeopleSoft and hundreds of others were flooding the market with tightly integrated packages. In this period of the early 1990s, IBM decided that it would be more lucrative to partner with these companies that lacked independent middleware and enabling technologies. IBM decided that it would be better off enabling these packaged software companies than competing in the packaged software market.
This turned out to be the right decision for IBM at the time. The packaged software it had developed in the 80s was actually holding it back. Therefore, without the burden of trying to fix broken software, it was able to focus all of its energy and financial strength on its core enabling software business. But as companies like Oracle and SAP cornered the packaged software market and began to expand to enabling software, IBM began to evolve its strategy. IBM’s strategy is a hybrid of the traditional packaged software business and a solutions business based on best practices industry frameworks.
So, there are two components in IBM’s solutions strategy – vertical packaged solutions that can be applied across industries and solution frameworks that are focused on specific vertical markets.
Horizontal Packages. The horizontal solutions that IBM is offerings have been primarily based on acquisitions it has made over the past few years. While at first glance they look like any other packaged software, there is a method to what IBM has purchased. Without exception, these acquisitions are focused on providing packaged capabilities that are not specific to any market but are intended to be used in any vertical market. In essence, the packaged solutions that IBM has purchased resemble middleware more than end-to-end solutions. For example, Sterling Commerce, which IBM purchased in August 2010, is a cross channel commerce platform. It purchased Coremetrics in June, provides web analytics and bought Unica for marketing automation of core business processes. While each of these is indeed packaged, they reach represent a component of a solution that can be applied across industries.
Vertical Packages. IBM has been working on its vertical market packaging for more than a decade through its Business Services Group (BSG). IBM has taken its best practices from various industry practices and codified these patterns into software components. These components have been unified into solution frameworks for industries such as retail, banking, and insurance. While this has been an active approach with the Global Services for many years, there has been a major restructuring in IBM’s software organization this past year. In January, the software group split into two groups: one focused on middleware and another focused on software solutions. All of the newly acquired horizontal packages provide the underpinning for the vertical framework-based software solutions.
Leading with the solution. IBM software has changed dramatically over the past several decades. The solutions focus does not stop with the changes within the software business units itself; it extends to hardware as well. Increasingly, customers want to be able to buy their solutions as a package without having to buy the piece parts. IBM’s solution focus that encompasses solutions, middleware, appliances, and hardware is the strategy that IBM will take into the coming decade.
By Merv Adrian, IT Market Strategy
In July 2009, IBM announced the Smart Analytics System 7600, a workload-optimized, pre-integrated bundle of hardware and software targeted at the business analytics market. Included in that package are an IBM POWER 550 running AIX, storage, plus InfoSphere Warehouse Enterprise Edition (which consists of DB2, Warehouse design and management tools + Cubing, Data Mining and Text Analytics services), and Cognos 8 Business Intelligence, configured and tuned, and “health check” features. Accommodations are made if the customer already has licensed some of the software and wants to use it on the platform; in this sense, the software is described as “optional.” This month, IBM broadened the story and upped the ante, making Smart Analytics System a key weapon in its widening battle with Oracle.
Yesterday I read an interesting blog commenting on why Oracle seems so interested in Sun’s hardware.
I quote from a comment by Brian Aker, former head of architecture for MySQL on the O’Reily Radar blog site. He comments on his view on why Oracle bought Sun,
Brian Aker: I have my opinions, and they’re based on what I see happening in the market. IBM has been moving their P Series systems into datacenter after datacenter, replacing Sun-based hardware. I believe that Oracle saw this and asked themselves “What is the next thing that IBM is going to do?” That’s easy. IBM is going to start pushing DB2 and the rest of their software stack into those environments. Now whether or not they’ll be successful, I don’t know. I suspect once Oracle reflected on their own need for hardware to scale up on, they saw a need to dive into the hardware business. I’m betting that they looked at Apple’s margins on hardware, and saw potential in doing the same with Sun’s hardware business. I’m sure everything else Sun owned looked nice and scrumptious, but Oracle bought Sun for the hardware.
I think that Brian has a good point. In fact, in a post I wrote a few months ago, I commented on the fact that hardware is back. It is somewhat ironic. For a long time, the assumption has been that a software platform is the right leverage point to control markets. Clearly, the tide is shifting. IBM, for example, has taken full advantage of customer concerns about the future of the Sun platform. But IBM is not stopping there. I predict a hardware sneak attack that encompasses IBM’s platform software strength (i.e., middleware, automation, analytics, and service management) combined with its hardware platforms.
IBM will use its strength in systems and middleware software to expand its footprint into Oracle’s backyard surrounding its software with an integrated platform designed to work as a system of systems. It is clear that over the past five or six years IBM’s focus has been on software and services. Software has long provided good profitability for IBM. Services has made enormous strides over the past decade as IBM has learned to codify knowledge and best practices into what I have called Service as Software. The other most important movement has been IBM’s focused effort over the past decade to revamp the underlying structure of its software into modular services that are used across its software portfolio. Combine this approach with industry focused business frameworks and you have a pretty good idea of where IBM is headed with its software and services portfolios.
The hardware strategy has begun to evolve in 2005 when IBM software bought a little hardware XML accelerator hardware appliance company called DataPower. Many market watchers were confused. What would IBM software do with a hardware platform? Over time, IBM expanded the footprint of this platform and began to repurpose it as a means to pre-packaging software components. First there was a SOA-based appliance; then IBM added a virtual machine appliance called the CloudBurst appliance. On the Lotus side of the business, IBM bought another appliance company that evolved into the Lotus Foundations platform. Appliances became a great opportunity to package and preconfigure systems that could be remotely upgraded and managed. This packaging of software with systems demonstrated the potential not only for simplicity for customers but a new way of adding value and revenue.
Now, IBM is taking the idea of packaging hardware with software to new levels. It is starting to leverage the software and networking capability focused on hardware-driven systems. For example, within the systems environment, IBM is leveraging its knowledge of optimizing systems software so that it applications-based workloads can take advantage of capabilities such as threading, caching, and systems level networking.
In its recent announcement, IBM has developed its new hardware platforms based on the five most common workloads: transaction processing, analytics, business applications, records management and archiving, and collaboration. What does this mean to customers? If a customer has a transaction oriented system, the most important capability is to ensure that the environment uses as many threads as possible to optimize speed of throughput. In addition, caching repetitive workloads will also ensure that transactions move through the system as quickly as possible. While this has been doable in the past, the difference is that these capabilities are packaged as an end-to-end system. Thus, implementation could be faster and more precise. The same can be said for analytics workloads. These workloads demand a high level of efficiency to enable customers to look for patterns in the data that help predict outcomes. Analytics workloads require the caching and fast processing of algorithms and data across multiple sources.
The bottom line is that IBM is looking at its hardware as an extension of the type of workloads they are required to support. Rather than considering hardware as as set of separate platforms, IBM is following a systems of systems approach that is consistent with cloud computing. With this type of approach, IBM will continue on the path of viewing a system as a combination of the hardware platform, the systems software, and systems-based networking. These elements of computing are therefore configured based on the type of application and the nature of the current workload.
It is, in fact, workload optimization that is at the forefront of what is changing in hardware in the coming decade. This is true both in the data center and in the cloud. Cloud computing — and the hybrid environments that make up the future of computing are all predicated on predictable, scalable, and elastic workload management. It is the way we will start thinking about computing as a continuum of all of the component parts combined — hardware, software, services, networking, storage, collaboration, and applications. This reflects the dramatic changes that are just at the horizon.
You can set performance records in a virtualized environment – that’s the message of the new 1 Tb TPC-H benchmark record (scroll down to see the 1Tb results) just released by ParAccel and VMware. Running on VMware’s vSphere 4, the ParAccel Analytic Database (PADB) delivered a one-two punch: not only the top performance number for a 1 terabyte (TB) benchmark, but the top price-performance number as well. The results in a nutshell: 1,316,882 Composite Queries per Hour (QphH), a price/performance of 70 cents/QphH, and a data load rate of over 3.5 TBs per hour. ParAccel moved quickly to promote the result; oddly, VMware seems to have been asleep at the switch, with no promotion on its site as the release hit the wires, and a bland quote from a partner exec in the release itself.
I spent the other week at a new conference called Cloud Connect. Being able to spend four days emerged in an industry discussion about cloud computing really allows you to step back and think about where we are with this emerging industry. While it would be possible to write endlessly about all the meeting and conversations I had, you probably wouldn’t have enough time to read all that. So, I’ll spare you and give you the top four things I learned at Cloud Connect. I recommend that you also take a look at Brenda Michelson’s blogs from the event for a lot more detail. I would also refer you to Joe McKendrick’s blog from the event.
1. Customers are still figuring out what Cloud Computing is all about. For those of us who spend way too many hours on the topic of cloud computing, it is easy to make the assumption that everyone knows what it is all about. The reality is that most customers do not understand what cloud computing is. Marcia Kaufman and I conducted a full day workshop called Introduction to Cloud. The more than 60 people who dedicated a full day to a discussion of all aspects of the cloud made it clear to us that they are still figuring out the difference between infrastructure as a service and platform as a service. They are still trying to understand the issues around security and what cloud computing will mean to their jobs.
2. There is a parallel universe out there among people who have been living and breathing cloud computing for the last few years. In their view the questions are very different. The big issues discussed among the well-connected were focused on a few key issues: is there such a thing as a private cloud?; Is Software as a Service really cloud computing? Will we ever have a true segmentation of the cloud computing market?
3. From the vantage point of the market, it is becoming clear that we are about to enter one of those transitional times in this important evolution of computing. Cloud Connect reminded me a lot of the early days of the commercial Unix market. When I attended my first Unix conference in the mid-1980s it was a different experience than going to a conference like Comdex. It was small. I could go and have a conversation with every vendor exhibiting. I had great meetings with true innovators. There was a spirit of change and innovation in the halls. I had the same feeling about the Cloud Connect conference. There were a small number of exhibitors. The key innovators driving the future of the market were there to discuss and debate the future. There was electricity in the air.
4. I also anticipate a change in the direction of cloud computing now that it is about to pass that tipping point. I am a student of history so I look for patterns. When Unix reached the stage where the giants woke up and started seeing huge opportunity, they jumped in with a vengeance. The great but small Unix technology companies were either acquired, got big or went out of business. I think that we are on the cusp of the same situation with cloud computing. IBM, HP, Microsoft, and a vast array of others have seen the future and it is the cloud. This will mean that emerging companies with great technology will have to be both really luck and really smart.
The bottom line is that Cloud Connect represented a seminal moment in cloud computing. There is plenty of fear among customers who are trying to figure out what it will mean to their own data centers. What will the organizational structure of the future look like? They don’t know and they are afraid. The innovative companies are looking at the coming armies of large vendors and are wondering how to keep their differentiation so that they can become the next Google rather than the next company whose name we can’t remember. There was much debate about two important issues: cloud standards and private clouds. Are these issues related? Of course. Standards always become an issue when there is a power grab in a market. If a Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, or an Oracle is able to set the terms for cloud computing, market control can shift over night. Will standard interfaces be able to save the customer? And how about private clouds? Are they real? My observation and contention is that yes, private clouds are real. If you deploy the same automation, provisioning software, and workload management inside a company rather than inside a public cloud it is still a cloud. Ironically, the debate over the private cloud is also about power and position in the market, not about ideology. If a company like Google, Amazon, or name whichever company is your favorite flavor… is able to debunk the private cloud — guess who gets all the money? If you are a large company where IT and the data center is core to how you conduct business — you can and should have a private cloud that you control and manage.
So, after taking a step back I believe that we are witnessing the next generation of computing — the industrialization of computing. It might not be as much fun as the wild west that we are in the midst of right now but it is coming and should be here before we realize that it has happened.
Informatica might be thought of as the last independent data management company standing. In fact, that used to be Informatica’s main positioning in the market. That has begun to change over the last few years as Informatica can continued to make strategic acquisitions. Over the past two years Informatica has purchased five companies — the most recent was Siperian, a significant player in Master Data Management solutions. These acquisitions have paid off. Today Informatica has past the $500 million revenue mark with about 4,000 customers. It has deepened its strategic partnerships with HP, Ascenture, Salesforce.com, and MicroStrategies, In a nutshell, Informatica has made the transition from a focus on ETL (Extract, Transform, Load) tools to support data warehouses to a company focused broadly on managing information. Merv Adrian did a great job of providing context for Informatica’s strategy and acquisitions. To transition itself in the market, Informatica has set its sights on data service management — a culmination of data integration, master data management and data transformation, predictive analytics in a holistic manner across departments, divisions, and business partners.
In essence, Informatica is trying to position itself as a leading manager of data across its customers’ ecosystem. This requires a way to have consistent data definitions across silos (Master Data Management), ways to trust the integrity of that data (data cleansing), event processing, predictive analytics, integration tools to move and transform data, and the ability to prove that governance can be verified (data governance). Through its acquisitions, Informatica is working to put these pieces together. However, as a relatively small player living in a tough neighborhood (Oracle, IBM, SAS Institute,etc. it will be a difficult journey. This is one of the reasons that Informatica is putting so much emphasis on its new partner marketplace. A partner network can really help a smaller player appear and act bigger.
This Marketplace will include all of Informatica’s products. It will enable developers to develop within Informatica’s development cloud and deploy either in the cloud or on premise. Like its new partner marketplace, the cloud is offering another important opportunity for Informatica to compete. Informatica was an early partner with Salesforce.com. It has been offerings complementary information management products that can be used as options with Salesforce.com. This has provided Informatica access to customers who might not have ever thought about Informatica in the past. In addition, it taught Informatica about the value of cloud computing as a platform for the future. Therefore, I expect that with Informatica’s strong cloud-based offerings will help the company maintain its industry position. In addition, I expect that the company’s newly strengthened partnership with HP will be very important in the company’s growth.
What is Informatica’s roadmap? It intends to continue to deliver new releases every six months including new data services and new data integration services. It will including develop these services with a self-service interfaces. In the end, its goal is to be a great data steward to its customers. This is an admirable goal. Informatica has made very good acquisitions that support its strategic goals. It is making the right bets on cloud and on a partner ecosystem. The question that remains is whether Informatica can truly scale to the size where it can sustain the competitive threats. Companies like IBM, Oracle, Microsoft, SAP, and SAS Institute are not standing still. Each of these companies have built and will continue to expand their information management strategies and portfolios of offerings. If Informatica can break the mold on ease of implementation on complex data service management it will have earned a place at the head table.
It is easy to assume that with the excitement around cloud computing would put a damper on the hardware market. But I have news for you. I am predicting that over the next few years hardware will be front and center. Why would I make such a wild prediction. Here are my three reasons.
1. Hardware is front and center in almost all aspects of the computer industry. It is no wonder that Oracle wants to become a hardware company. Hardware is tangible. It’s revenue hits the bottom line right away. Hardware can envelop software and keep customers pinned down for many, many years. New generation platforms in the form of hardware appliances are a convenient delivery platform that helps the sales cycle. It is no wonder that Oracle wants a hardware platform. It completes the equation and allows Oracle to position itself as a fully integrated computing company. Likewise, IBM and HP are focused on building up their war chest full of strong hardware platforms. If you believe that customers want to deal with one large brand..or two, then the winners want to control the entire computing ecosystem.
2. The cloud looms. Companies like Amazon.com and Google do not buy hardware from the big iron providers and never will. For economic reasons, these companies go directly to component providers and purchase custom designed chips, board, etc. This approach means that for a very low price, these cloud providers can reduce their power consumption by making sure that the components are optimize for massively scaled clouds. These cloud vendors are focused on undercutting the opportunity and power of the big systems providers. Therefore, cloud providers care a lot about hardware — it is through optimization of the hardware that they can threaten the power equilibrium in the computer market.
3. The clash between cloud and on premise environments. It is clear that the computer marketplace is at a transition point. The cloud vendors are betting that they can get the costs based on optimization of everything so low that they win. The large Systems vendors are betting that their sophisticated systems combining hardware, software, and service will win because of their ability to better protect the integrity of the customer’s business. These vendors will all provide their own version of the public and private cloud to ensure that they maintain power.
So, in my view there will be an incredible focus on hardware over the next two years. This will actually be good for customers because the level of sophistication, cost/performance metrics will be impressive. This hardware renaissance will not last. In the long run, hardware will be commoditized. The end game will be interesting because of the cloud. It will not a zero sum game. No, the data center doesn’t go away. But the difference is that purpose built hardware will be optimized for workloads to support the massively scaled environments that will be the heart of the future of computing. And then, it will be all about the software, the data, and the integration.