IBM Edge 2016– Outthink the Status Quo

By Jane Clabby, Clabby Analytics

IBM Edge 2016 featured the company’s Storage, Power Systems and z Systems as foundations for the evolving cognitive computing era. Cloud computing was positioned as the delivery platform for digital innovation – including technology innovation, collaborative innovation and business model innovation. The theme of this year’s conference was: “Outthink the status quo.”

Statistics from this year’s IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) Study support the company’s overall strategic directions. 72% of study participants selected technology as the main game changer for the first time, while 70% of Chief Experience Officers (CXOs) plan to extend partner networks and 80% are experimenting with different business models. As always, the conference included many customer success stories to reinforce IBM’s key messages.

While I will cover primarily storage and software-defined infrastructure in my review, there were other interesting storylines that piqued my interest this year–including Blockchain and the Open Source project Hyperledger.


IBM Systems SVP Tom Rosamilia’s keynote led off with a discussion about the importance of systemic performance relative to microprocessor performance. With Moore’s Law tapering off, resulting in increasingly diminishing returns, businesses must focus on combinations of things working together to accelerate and optimize performance in Big Data, cognitive and analytics applications. The focus on systemic performance has enabled businesses to do things like combining transactional processing with analytics on z Systems, improving efficiency and time-to-results. And Flash storage now serves new generation workloads that require instantaneous delivery of performance.

Customer examples include:

  • Plenty of Fish, an on-line dating site with over 3 million active daily users, experienced bottlenecks when running matching algorithms on its clients’ personality data and images. Moving to all-Flash IBM Storage enabled the company to get to a 4 millisecond response time on its 30 servers, addressing the accelerating demands of its member base. IBM Flash offered lower latency than any other solutions evaluated–which was the metric most critical to the company’s business.
  • Red Bull Racing designs and manufactures race cars that are used in 21 countries across 5 continents. The car design includes more than 100 lightweight high-power sensors, on-board computing systems, real-time telemetry and external data (weather, for example) that use IBM analytics to make complex data driven decisions in real-time. Cars must be both fast and safe and comply with industry regulation and auditing processes. To meet these demands, the company makes more than 30,000 engineering changes per year which must be tested in virtual simulations before going live. As an IBM partner since 2005, Red Bull recently adopted IBM Spectrum Computing LSF to accelerate workload and resource management, increasing throughput for simulations by from 30-50%. Other IBM solutions employed by Red Bull include IBM Spectrum Scale, IBM Spectrum Symphony, IBM Elastic Server on Power and IBM Spectrum Protect.
  • Wells Fargo moved to Blockchain running on IBM Linux, introducing a new paradigm for financial transactions – a tamper-proof, shared distributed ledger that tracks each step in a transaction in a secure way.

IBM Storage and Software Defined Infrastructure

Ed Walsh, the new (he rejoined the company nine weeks ago) GM of IBM Storage and Software Defined Infrastructure, shared his perspective on the three compelling elements of the IBM storage portfolio:

  • The broadest storage portfolio in the industry
  • Software-defined Leadership
  • Flash leadership

With an IBM software-defined infrastructure, customers can move into the Cognitive Computing Era, support new generation application workloads such as Hadoop and Spark, take out cost, and support growing business demands. IBM cognitive solutions provide the ability to ingest all sorts of data, learn from it and reason through it to improve and automate decision-making.

Broad portfolio

One of the most compelling aspects of IBM’s storage strategy is its commitment to flexibility and choice, enabling customers to purchase solutions as software –only (to be run on commodity storage), as an appliance, or as-a-service – with the same code base regardless of delivery model. Many of IBM’s software-defined storage offerings are available, not only in the SoftLayer Cloud, but also in other public cloud environments such as Google Cloud, Amazon S3, and Microsoft Azure. This enables customers to easily move to hybrid cloud environments as well as support traditional and new generation workloads. The flexible licensing model of the Spectrum Storage Suite is another plus – allowing customers to mix and match products within the suite as needs change, paying based on capacity. Not only can customers scale up as needs grow but customers can also scale back as needs change.

The IBM Flash portfolio is equally comprehensive, offering a wide range of recently refreshed all-Flash arrays that can be used for new and traditional use cases including storage virtualization, grid-scale cloud, Big Data and business critical applications.

Software-defined storage-IBM Spectrum Storage

As mentioned above, IBM’s software-defined storage solutions enable customers to easily move to the hybrid cloud which IDC reports will represent 80% of enterprise IT by 2017. According to IBM, these technologies allow customers to simultaneously optimize traditional applications by leveraging automation to free up resources for new applications, allowing organizations to modernize and transform. The portfolio includes:

  • IBM Spectrum Scale – Scale-out file storage
  • IBM Spectrum Accelerate – Scale-out block storage
  • IBM Cloud Object Storage – Scale-out object storage
  • IBM Spectrum Virtualize – Virtualized block storage
  • IBM Spectrum Protect – Data protection
  • IBM Spectrum Control – Common management layer across block and object
  • IBM Spectrum Copy Data Management – a new solution that enables customers to easily manage the proliferation of copies across the organization, not just those used for replication and data protection, but for other use cases as well.

IBM also unveiled another new offering based on customer demand–combining the capabilities of IBM Spectrum Protect and IBM Spectrum Scale, called Data Protection for Data Oceans–which is already in use at the European Union Water Company to improve data protection across oceans of data in a scale out architecture. This is a direction that IBM will continue to pursue – building strategic solutions that solve specific problems.

We also learned more about IBM Spectrum Scale transparent cloud tiering, which allows administrators to (without the use of a gateway) add private or public cloud object storage as a target for Spectrum Scale data. Data can be seamlessly tiered to tape, an object store or to public clouds, including IBM Cloud Object Store, Amazon S3, Google Cloud, Azure, (or any cloud with a RESTful API interface) in the same manner used to store data locally.

Software-defined infrastructure –IBM Spectrum Computing

The other element of IBM’s software- defined infrastructure is IBM Spectrum Computing workload management and resource scheduling. These solutions, originally designed to support the high-performance computing (HPC) market, are finding their way into a broader set of workloads and applications. Providing cloud-based scale out and data virtualization, IBM Spectrum Computing is ideal for new generation applications such as Hadoop, Spark, SAP HANA and Cassandra, as well as Big Data and analytics applications. By virtualizing the compute grid, “cluster creep” is minimized, utilization is improved, and performance is predictable in multi-tenant multi-workload shared infrastructure environments. The portfolio includes:

  • IBM Spectrum LSF — Intelligent workload management platform for distributed HPC environments
  • IBM Spectrum Symphony — Grid services for analytics, trade and risk applications
  • IBM Spectrum Conductor — Designed for open scale-out frameworks for real-time workload management for applications such as Hadoop, Spark, Mongo DB and others.
  • IBM Spectrum Conductor for Spark – Purpose-built version of Apache Spark

IBM Flash Solutions

On August 23, 2016, IBM announced three new all-Flash systems:

  • IBM Storwize V7000 – cost-optimized Flash for heterogeneous environments with high performance CPU and more cache for up to 45% performance improvement
  • IBM V5030F – low cost for entry level and mid-size workloads — Flash optimized with Real-Time   Compression, distributed RAID and multi-layer write caching
  • IBM FlashSystem V9000 – Ultra-low latency enterprise-class for mission-critical workloads with up to 30% performance improvement

These systems join the rest of the IBM all-Flash portfolio to cover a broad range of use cases and capacity and performance requirements, providing optimized performance while maintaining a low TCO. The following customer examples demonstrate the value of all-Flash.

  • University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) has 3 million subscribers and 13PB of block storage managed by IBM Spectrum Storage. The company has a home-grown message router that is very sensitive to latency delays and was impacting customer billing. A V9000 front-ended by Spectrum Virtualize enabled UPMC to migrate the VM’s within hours. The success of this project opened the floodgates for other Flash-oriented projects within the University.
  • State of Arizona Land Department generates revenue for local public schools by managing Arizona-based properties. With the V9000 and VersaStack, GIS applications that used aerial photography data, map sets and 3D models performed better than other solutions that were evaluated.


Blockchain is a protocol that originated in 2009 at Bitcoin to record financial transactions. Since then, it is a much richer solution that records the transfer and ownership of assets in many industries, providing database records that are validated and propagated, and more importantly, cannot be changed or deleted. Hyperledger is an open source project (one of the most popular projects ever) launched as a collaborative effort to advance Blockchain technology. Hyperledger builds on the Bitcoin Blockchain, adding data encryption, access control policies and digital signatures for every record.

Here are examples of how Blockchain is used.

  • IBM uses Blockchain built on Hyperledger in its own supply chain. IBM was seeing 25,000 disputes every year over shipments, payments, invoices etc., and each dispute was costing the company $31,000. By adopting Blockchain, IBM was able to replace the existing ledger system with a secure record of orders and parts with a range of suppliers throughout the company. The new system helps enforce workflows and enables partners and suppliers to contribute to the workflow.
  • Everledger uses Blockchain to track the provenance of diamonds and other luxury items. This life story of each diamond was previously tracked on paper which introduced risk of fraud and theft, costing insurers $50B annually and leading to higher insurance costs for businesses and customers. Using a Blockchain solution built on IBM’s LinuxONE platform, Everledger now provides a digital thumbprint of each diamond with information about custody and ownership, title transfer and chain of possession, as well as notarization and time stamping.

Summary Observations

IBM Edge 2016 was packed with lots of great information and customer success stories that demonstrate how the company’s technologies are being used and what tangible benefits are being derived. There were many examples that reinforced the idea of “systemic” performance improvements being provided by IBM products working in conjunction with each other. While my focus in on storage and software defined infrastructure, IBM’s hybrid cloud strategy is very compelling, incorporating elements from across the portfolio and linking them together to support new uses cases and workloads (analytics and Big Data, for example) that require high levels of performance. This and IBM’s strength in analytics and cognitive computing are clear differentiators.

Some of my fellow analysts criticized the IBM storage portfolio for being too broad and too complex. But I see it a different way. Customers can address all of their storage requirements from within the IBM portfolio, so there is no need to use different vendors, which actually reduces complexity associated with ordering, managing and support (we used to call this one-stop shopping). The new Spectrum product names, based on product function, also contribute to ease-of-ordering, and the consistent user interface across the product line improves ease-of-use.

IBM introduced lots of new ideas and technologies at Edge 2016 that are, as Tom Rosamilia said, “transformative.” IBM reinforced this by positioning itself as the company to turn to when transforming a business. With deep hybrid cloud product offerings and expertise, with the richest and deepest analytics portfolio in the industry, and with its innovative spirit, I concur. I’m looking forward to Edge 2017 where I will be able to see even further progress in business transformation as more and more enterprises come forward to explain how they have used IBM technologies to drive innovation and new business models.