IBM Interconnect 2015: Cloud, SDS, IoT and DevOps

By Jane Clabby, Clabby Analytics

Although IBM’s recent InterConnect 2015 conference was billed as “the premier cloud and mobile conference” – there was far more to this event than just cloud and mobile computing discussions and demonstrations. There were discussions, product demonstrations and customer testimonials on security, on asset management, on infrastructure, on the Internet-of-Things (IoT), on software defined storage, on DevOps (particularly focused on IBM’s Bluemix development environment) – and much, much more. It seemed that whatever I wanted to research, the resources were there and ready for me to dig in.

The conference’s theme was “A New Way”, and rather than featuring technology alone, IBM chose to highlight customers using its cloud, analytics, mobile and software defined solutions to engage with their customers in new ways. As Robert LeBlanc, Senior Vice-President, IBM Cloud, reported, “It’s about the outcome not the technology”. As such we heard from a wide range of customers including the more traditional, such as Citi’s CMO Heather Cox who observed that, “People need banking, they don’t necessarily need banks” to the more cutting edge CEO of Dataskill, Nigel Hook, who is using IBM IoT solutions in SilverHook’s power racing boats (more on this later).

At this year’s conference I chose to focus on:

  • Cloud computing;
  • Software-defined storage (SDS);
  • The Internet-of-Things; and,
  • IBM’s Bluemix application development environment.

Here, I will discuss activities and new announcements in the Software Defined Storage division, as well as the newly formed IoT division, while also highlighting the role of IBM Bluemix and Watson Analytics.

IBM’s Cloud: A Major Transformation

When I write my review each year, I like to look at what I wrote the previous year to see if IBM has delivered on its promises. So, I found that IBM used its PULSE 2014 event to announce that it was in the midst of a huge business transformation – embracing hybrid cloud and “IBM-as-a-Service”. At Interconnect 2015, IBM reviewed its progress in hybrid cloud computing as well as its cloud service offerings.

IBM started by providing proof of expansion in the cloud marketplace. The company reported that it will open two new SoftLayer data centers in Sydney and Montreal in the next 30 days. When launched, this will make 5 new data center openings in the last four months – delivering a 100% increase in its overall cloud capacity since the SoftLayer acquisition in 2013. In addition, IBM populated these new cloud centers with new solutions and services that have become available on the IBM SoftLayer cloud over the past year – and it greatly expanded its Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) Bluemix platform offerings within the cloud.

IBM Software Defined Storage – The IBM Spectrum Family

IBM Interconnect didn’t really focus much attention on storage – that comes in May at the IBM Edge conference- but there were several significant announcements that took place just ahead of the conference, and I had an opportunity to learn more about them at the conference.

One of the most significant developments is the rebranding of an entire set of software defined storage solutions under the new “Spectrum” name. IBM Spectrum Control is based on Virtual Storage Center; IBM Spectrum Protect is based on Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM); IBM Spectrum Archive is based on LTFS; IBM Spectrum Virtualize is based on SAN Volume Controller (SVC) and IBM Spectrum Scale is based on GPFS/Elastic Storage. New to the family is IBM Spectrum Accelerate which is a software-only XIV solution. Following are some more detailed thoughts:

IBM Spectrum Accelerate

IBM Spectrum Accelerate enables customers to take advantage of the company’s experience gained in eight years with over 100,000 server nodes, as well as the high-performance grid architecture of XIV—in a flexible, agile, software-only configuration on commodity hardware. Customers doing a hardware refresh can easily redeploy “retired” x86 servers in these systems with IBM Spectrum Accelerate. Other use cases include hybrid cloud (an integrated XIV system on-premise with cloud-based back-up and recovery), disaster recovery (mirrored to cloud or data center servers), and branch/remote office, all managed through an intuitive, easy-to-use GUI, IBM Hyper Scale Manager that can integrate with IBM Spectrum Control for consolidated management.. IBM Accelerate is available as a perpetual license (hardware can be updated whenever required) or in a fixed-term monthly model.

According to IBM, during the beta phase, both XIV and non-XIV customers deploying Spectrum Accelerate were able to get it up and running in fewer than 30 minutes, because no RAID preplanning is required. Ongoing administration is minimized too— I learned of a leading travel and transportation company based in Europe that is managing 32 XIV frames with only two people (and one of them is acting as a back-up to the other).

Multi-Cloud Storage Gateway

Also of interest was IBM’s planned Multi-Cloud Storage gateway — capabilities will be embedded in selected IBM storage offerings and will enable data to be replicated to multiple IBM and non-IBM key value stores (KVS) including IBM SoftLayer, Amazon S3, Microsoft Azure and others. Essentially the gateway will use analytics-driven optimization to enable IBM SoftLayer and other public cloud storage providers to act as another tier of storage, improving storage economics by allowing storage to be consumed as a service, while still being integrated into the overall storage infrastructure.

IBM Spectrum Control Storage Insights

Storage Insights (currently in beta) is a data management- as- a- service solution available on the IBM SoftLayer cloud. It provides storage and data reporting for key insights into storage usage for capacity planning, tiering decisions, and to easily identify underutilized storage. The administrator is able to quickly and easily look at storage assets and analyze storage performance in the context of applications over time. This solution will be particularly attractive to mid-market customers who want to avoid the costly and time-consuming deployment of an on-premise solution, and who are managing storage with a generalist rather than a specifically trained storage expert. Having an enterprise-class solution at an affordable price point enables these mid-market customers to easily identify unused storage to improve utilization, driving down both administrative and storage costs.

Storage Insights is available in public beta through IBM Service Engage (announced at IBM Pulse 2014), an on-line cloud portal and digital engagement/delivery model for customers, and a forum for users to give product feedback directly to development. The website is easy-to-use and includes product information including videos and testimonials, product demonstrations, access to a free 30-day trial, and the ability to buy products as SaaS offerings.

The Internet of Things Division

There is a lot of chatter about Internet of Things (IoT ) right now. IDC predicts IoT will be a $7.1 trillion market by 2020 while Gartner, Inc. forecasts that 4.9 billion connected things will be in use in 2015, up 30 percent from 2014, and will reach 25 billion by 2020. Predictions aside, it is certainly true that the growing volume of sensor and device data will make “Big Data” even bigger. IoT represents both a challenge and an opportunity for businesses in a range of industries. Like Big Data, the opportunity here is to use analytics to gain value from this data, helping businesses to produce better products and to be more responsive to their customers.

Recognizing this trend while also identifying that IBM’s traditional strengths in asset management, analytics and the foundational capabilities of Bluemix will play well in this evolving market, IBM has announced an IBM Internet of Things division. As with many things IBM, this is not so much new as it is a “repackaging”. And that’s a good thing – it means that IBM brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this rapidly growing market. The company is also aligning capabilities from across the organization including Rational, Maximo, Watson, Bluemix, and facilities management under the new Internet of Things division.

According to Chris O’Connor, General Manager, Internet of Things, who will lead the new division, IoT is a natural fit for asset management, where static “things” are interconnected with dynamic “things” and they speak to each other. IBM’s focus will be on two types of individuals: (1) The “Makers” who build stuff and (2) The “Operators” who run stuff, creating complex interactions of systems that work together to provide an end service. IBM will address the entire asset management engineering lifecycle for IoT including “Connect, Collect, Service and Analyze”.

Customer Examples

IBM provided several customers that are using its IoT offerings:

  • car2go partners with Daimler to provide a shared car service in 26 cities with 12,000 vehicles and 800,000 users. Using IoT technology, members of the car2go service connect to the car and drive away. Cars are easily tracked from location to location, and maintenance issues are identified before they impact the customer.
  • Cummins has 1million engines in vehicles and equipment in 190 countries, and collects and analyzes real-time engine data for diagnostics and trouble-shooting. When fault data indicates a potential issue, customer support organizations can be notified and recommendations can be made.
  • Silverhook Powerboats uses IoT in its racing boats to improve performance. It is developing a system that will collect data from the boat (speed, direction, course etc.), environment (water conditions, weather etc.) and the driver (heart rate, body temperature etc.) to detect issues in real-time so that any necessary corrections can be made.
  • Menuat connects local restaurants to IoT to help make them more competitive, enabling menus to be updated on-the-fly, providing live social updates and search capabilities through a mobile application.
  • University of South Carolina collects and analyzes helicopter sensor data for speed, vibration, temperature, strain guage, metals in oil, acoustics and torque, resulting in a $125M cost avoidance and a 250% increase in time between overhauls.

The IoT Bluemix Demo

In a demonstration of the IoT service on BlueMix, we saw an application created that would stream temperature, velocity and angle data from a torque machine on a production line. The demo showed how to:

  • Connect to the assets;
  • Compose a data flow;
  • Forecast failures; and,
  • Automate a response to accelerate repairs.

An application process flow was created in Bluemix to gather and analyze data for predictive maintenance. If a failure pattern is detected, a trouble ticket is automatically generated, a work order created and, via a mobile text message push service, a repair team could be dispatched. Through this application, failures can be predicted and prevented before they happen. Not only does this improve customer satisfaction, it also enables the manufacturer to avoid any costly asset failures.

Summary Observations

So has IBM transformed itself to take advantage of the hybrid cloud and an “as-a-service” model? I would say yes, as evidenced by the growth in SoftLayer and the number of applications running on the IBM Cloud platform. The success of new customer engagement models such as Service Engage and Bluemix, and developer and start-up events such as Bluemix Garage and Girls Who Code are also big parts of that transformation. This “New Way” has enabled IBM to reach new customers who use the company’s solutions to create competitive advantage in new markets and in new ways. Look at the example of Silverhook Powerboats – collecting a range of data in real-time that will help them win more races. Menuat is another example of an application that is helping small business owners to compete with global chains via new services.

Forming the IoT division is a particularly good move for IBM as it enables the company to gain a foothold in this growing market. The real value here is in the collected data, and IBM has a full range of capabilities for analyzing Big Data already. By making IoT a focus, IBM can carve out a new market niche while extending reach and value of analytics solutions like Watson into this market.

Lastly, I, for one, am pleased to see the alphabet soup of IBM storage software brands (SVC, VSC, TPC, TSM, LTFS….) being replaced with a set of names that position the offerings as a family, as well as provide a branding scheme that is more descriptive of the functions that the products provide. I look forward to hearing more about IBM’s Spectrum Storage Family and software defined solutions at the IBM Edge conference in May.


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