IBM "Edge"s In A Better Storage Direction?

Just recently IBM held its latest "Edge" event - its systems- and storage-focused user conference. Now, those of you that read my blog regularly will know that I often like to have a little time to reflect after these big industry shindigs, before I put my thoughts let the hype fade and to see what's left. Irrespective of how many of these things you go to (and I do plenty!) it's all-too-easy to get caught up in the flurry of announcements (and there were plenty!) and the general razzmatazz and get carried along on the wave of news. I want to try to see the bigger picture, or at least what will be the lasting changes - not so much what gets immediately reported, but what will be impacting a vendor, the market, and users for years to come.

And in that respect I found this year's Edge fascinating. Let me make a couple of high-level comments before introducing a video-blog I shot at the event, and then rounding things out with a few more insights. The bottom line is this - we all know that IBM has some challenges, both generally (most recently the Lenovo deal, determining its strategic path, etc.) and in storage specifically (market share struggles, delivering a cohesive single message, etc.); but, here's the darnedest thing, neither the tone of the conference nor the nature of the private discussions I had felt anything other than positive. Take a look at this video and then I will explain more.

The video talked about a surprising 'freshness' to the underlying, tangible messaging IBM was using, combined with the fact that its smorgasbord of offerings can be both an operational blessing and a marketing curse. That's exactly what my two IBM interviewees covered. Since it was the theme of the Edge, IBM clearly understands that "Infrastructure Matters," and you get (well, I did anyhow!) the distinct impression that it has a huge number of underlying tools, technologies, products, and ideas to make manifest its desire to be a real storage leader in the next phase of IT. In other words, the raw materials exist. Again, I am not talking about the newly announced products per se (though the progress of multiple flash implementations and Storwize are excellent) but about the fact that IBM seems to understand that the future of storage is built around 3 things - software defiintion, economy, and open-ness - that were not traditionally the first things one thought of when hearing the name IBM, but that it has quietly and completely embraced. And when looking at the summary slide for what IBM has codenamed 'Elastic Storage" the breadth and completeness of the vision (much of which actually already exists) is at once staggering and at the same time credible. Unlike some vendors where things look good today but the foundations don't appear to be a viable route to the future, IBM has raw ability up the wazoo. The real challenge, as I see it, is for that to be packaged and promoted in a more cohesive fashion than has been the case - in order that users once again want to buy into an IBM approach as a whole. The good news - at least from what I saw and felt - is that IBM's executives understand that too.

Video Transcript

Mark: So, back in Vegas. This time for, as you can see, the IBM Edge Conference. My quick take away from this before we really get started is, there was a lot of surprise in this conference and perhaps the first one of all was IBM, the granddaddy of IT, starts like this.

Mark: So everyone knows IBM and they call it 'Big Blue'. That's what it's known as and one of the things of 'Big Blue' is that big is important because this is a huge company. Massive portfolio. One of the problems with that is it's hard to know what they've really got. I talked about surprise earlier, and there may be lots of surprising ingredients and nuggets but sometimes putting things together is hard both for IBM and therefore for its customers. So I asked a couple of people about how IBM is dealing with this. The first person I managed to speak to was Chris Algazine who is in storage product marketing.

Chris: One of the great things that I want everybody to know about Edge and take away from this conference is kind of like the food at the buffet. Where you have all of these choices, and when it comes to storage solutions you have choices. And so it's a bit of a hodgepodge where there's some things in the choices that you may need and some things that you don't need. There may even be some things that you really want but shouldn't have, and so you sign yourselves up for those, too. But in the end the important thing is that the solution that you build from the buffet of storage is the solution that you really need, because infrastructure matters and the innovation that you're driving at your company is a lot like putting together a plate full of food at the buffet.

Mark: So good for Chris and he got his lunch which is doubly good. I then got a couple of minutes with Anise Mastin who's more from the Tivoli side of the company and obviously very often you see these, to use the food analogy, as different courses where of course what we really want is a meal and I wanted to know what's IBM doing to bring these two sides together?

Anise: So Chris provided an interesting take on our plethora of capabilities. The interesting thing is our business, IBM, on the hardware, software, and services, we understand that we must place one message in the marketplace. So we're coming together to actually demonstrate how we can deliver on data resiliency, data automation, and data acceleration. Because although many vendors say that, IBM has vendor neutral capabilities that actually deliver to transform your environment to a software defined environment for cost effective outcomes.

Mark: So, this sort of chart of all the sessions, this is what we're used to in big events like this, it's just one session, one product detail after another. I mentioned when I started this that if I took anything away from Edge 2014 it was surprise at IBM. So let me just give you a couple of the surprising things. They had a series of what they called Edge Talks and the one that will stick with everyone who was here was the Renegade Gardener, who made us think differently. And if that sounds really IBMish it was but not in a way you could really imagine.

We then had one of the other customers, which I thought was really interesting, putting big data into a surprisingly human form, was a guy from the NFL who talked about the broadcast opportunities and how they put together their season. Who plays what, where, whom. There are trillions of combinations even though you know what games are actually going to be played.

And then finally, I think a story that stuck with us, and again kept everything very human and again, for me, very surprising from an IBM perspective, was the story of a girl in the UK who got a local grocery chain to change their bread from being tiger bread to being giraffe bread because she looked like that and her mother got on Facebook and it's a whole long story. But the point is, this was surprisingly tangible for IBM. It wasn't just sessions. You've got to do all this stuff, of course you have, but if it can keep doing that then maybe edge will become something that IBM has and not just the name of their conference.

Topics: Storage IT Infrastructure