Ballad to Big Blue: 40 Years as Number One

Despite my affinity for canines, you will not be clicking on an audio file to listen to me warble affection for a dog named “Blue.” Peter, Paul and Mary had a hit of sorts back in the early 1960s, called “Old Blue,” which began, “I had a dog and his name was Blue, betcha five dollars he’s a good un too.” Surprisingly, perhaps, this ditty was covered by luminaries like Willie Nelson and the Byrds. But my ballad to Blue does not spring from the 1960s, but the 1970s. The Blue, of course, is IBM, more specifically Big Blue. More preamble for the Big Blue ballad:

Two Score in IT: This October I entered my 40th year in the computer industry. My first job was entering data into IBM timesharing mainframes for Stone & Webster in downtown Boston, next to a nut roasting factory. Every evening I went home smelling like a roasted peanut, cashew, Brazil nut, or pecan, depending on what was being roasted that day. I am certain this caused some confusion for some unfortunate Green Line MBTA riders jammed next to me during the 5 o’clock rush hour. After it was discovered I actually was comfortable with JCL, yes old IBMers, “Job Control Language,” S&W eventually taught me something about “structured systems analysis and design” of the Yourdon and DeMarco heritage, and how to write BAL—IBM/370 Basic Assembly Language.

The rest, for me, is history, but it started with IBM and is still going with IBM because here I am, covering data management and analytics at Enterprise Strategy Group. Who is among the top suppliers of Big Data, database, BI/analytics, and integration? Indeed, Big Blue does Big Data, big time. Thus the one company that has accompanied me throughout my low road trek through IT for 40 years has been IBM.

Leading Through All the Change: IBM was the most important computer company to business and governments in 1972. It still is in 2012. IBM is the only IT supplier north of $100 billion in revenue coming from business and government (HP actually claims slightly more IT revenue, but HP has a large consumer business). Forty years in the lead in non-consumer IT is, and this is not hyperbole, absolutely astounding. Just consider all the change:

  • From mainframe to mini-computers to desktops to laptops to tablets, smartphones, NFCs, and all those embedded computers in your fossil fuel powered vehicle
  • From OS/360 and TSS/360 to RS- (DEC variants) to Unix, Linux, DOS, Windows, iOS, Android
  • From no middleware to middleware
  • From text-based development tools to GUI development tools, from 2 and 3GLs to Python
  • From running batch reports (I did plenty of that) to Big Data (I cover the market and write about that), and all the BI/analytics innovations in-between
  • From computing for the few largest business and governments to computing for billions of human beings, and businesses of all stripes
  • From IMS to Cullinet to Oracle RDBMS and DB2 and SQL Server to OODBMS to NoSQL
  • From paper tape to storage-as-a-service (hmm, we were actually using STaaS back in the timesharing days, but whatever)
  • From a few custom-built apps to more packaged apps than anyone can possibly count
  • From a few IT vendors to more IT vendors than anyone can possible count
  • From 100% Direct Sales in IT to the Indirect Channel—more VARs and consultancies than anyone can possibly count
  • From AT&T Ma Bell and all networks being private to IP protocol based networks and diversity among telecommunications providers
  • Sand Hill Road, globalization, the IITs, mobile, social, and cloud
  • From IBM VM to VMware (BTW Big Blue, I much preferred VM to MVS)

There have been times when I have been dazzled by IBM’s brilliance, such as when being exposed to some of the IBM Research Labs work; IBM has secured more US patents than any other company in the world for the past 19 years. Take that Google and Apple. Is there a more intelligent integrated advertising and communications program coming from the IT supply side than Smarter Planet? Despite the sheer scale of IBM, with over 400,000 employees, with over 500,000 shareholders, operating in something like 180 countries, it has managed to remake itself, strategically, at every turn in the industry. Bubble or bust, IBM has been there with me in some fashion throughout my IT journey. Consider my hat publicly tipped.

So much has changed in IT for business and government in 40 years, but one thing hasn’t: IBM is still #1.

“Had an IT vendor and its called Big Blue, betcha a hundred billion it’s a good un too.”

Topics: Data Platforms, Analytics, & AI