IBM thinks big

By Dawinderpal Sahota
18 May 2010 View Comments
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IBM sees one of its key roles as supporting the growth of so-called supercorps

At its annual Impact event in Las Vegas earlier this month, IBM shared its vision for the year ahead and beyond with a host of business partners.

A key part of IBM’s business strategy is to promote the growth of what it calls “supercorps”. The firm defines a supercorp as the supreme company in its sector – a description that could arguably apply to IBM itself. IBM aims to provide these supercorps with the technology they need to maintain their pre-eminence and also see off any potential threats.

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IBM is certainly well qualified to help firms play hardball with the opposition. It likes to talk a lot about the need for collaboration between businesses, but when it comes to looking after its own interests, collaboration often actually means acquisition. The vendor has bought 14 companies in the past two years alone, with Lombardi, ILOG and Cast Iron Systems among its more significant scalps.

And despite the fact that many of its customers are small or medium-sized companies, Beth Smith, IBM’s WebSphere vice president, said she was “not bothered” by the threat that IBM’s strategy seemingly poses to smaller businesses.

However, in reality the situation for SMEs is far from perilous. Massimo Pezzini, vice president and distinguished fellow at Gartner, believes recent technological innovations in cloud computing and open source are powerful enablers for SMEs.

“Applications such as [Google’s] G-mail and [Cisco’s] WebEx are available to everybody and available at a low price point,” he said.

“This reduces the barriers to entry into IT dramatically, and can enable a small business to behave as a supercorp. They have access to exactly the same resources as a real supercorp, and being more nimble and more flexible means they can still compete.”

Forrester Research’s John Rymer added that there is a social element involved that puts consumers off doing business with a supercorp.

“How many ordinary people or customers really like large corporations? Customers do business with them because they feel they have to, but they don’t feel good about doing business with them, and they don’t feel loyal to that business. So there’s an opportunity for small businesses that can compete on service, because small businesses are easier to do business with,” he said.

Smarter planet
Another key part of IBM’s strategy is to develop a “smarter planet”. Exponents of this idea argue that all the information that exists in the world from non-traditional IT sources, such as electricity meters or traffic cameras on motorways, can be digitally collected, monitored and analysed using cloud solutions.

“Specialists will be able to predict, based on historical data and current trends, that there would be a traffic jam on some busy motorway in the next 45 minutes – this is an example of smarter transportation,” said IBM’s Smith.

“This can be applied to all industries: in the medical field, energy and utilities – even cities as a whole. It’s really about being instrumental and inter-connected.”

IBM recently announced a new collaboration with organisations in Peterborough including the council to transform the Cambridgeshire city into the leading sustainable city in the UK.

The group is building a new online platform to monitor and analyse data on Peterborough’s energy, water, transport and waste systems. This data will be used to produce a real-time, integrated view of the city’s environmental performance.

IBM has also opened a Smarter Cities Technology Centre in Dublin, which will develop ideas around smarter cities.

DataPower XC10: a case of eXtreme déjà vu
The solution that IBM was most keen to publicise at the Impact event was its DataPower XC10 caching appliance. The appliance enables end users to access cloud-based solutions during periods of internet downtime.

However, Gartner’s Pezzini said that there is “nothing revolutionary” about the technology, as IBM has had a software-based caching solution, eXtreme Scale, on the market for a few years.

“It’s the same technology,” he said. “What’s interesting is that IBM is seeing an opportunity in the new form of the DataPower appliance.”

The DataPower XC10 caching appliance is essentially a boxed-up version of eXtreme Scale. “It’s important because it puts a buffer in front of the database and adds a tremendous delay in processing, which means the end user can continue using their cloud solutions even in periods of low or no internet connectivity, so companies can still function and grow using cloud solutions,” said Forrester’s Rymer.

“The DataPower appliance will simplify the use of the original eXtreme Scale software, making it easier to cache data. The original software was quite tricky to configure and wasn’t very successful,” he added.

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