IBM Transforms Itself: IBM’s Pulse 2014 Conference

By Joe Clabby, President, Clabby Analytics

Part of the fun of covering information technology (IT) events as a husband/wife team is that we can each go our own separate ways, attend briefing and demos that interest us, and then compare notes about what we learned at the end of a given conference.  In our case, Jane Clabby likes to cover cloud computing, software defined environments, application performance management, cross-system management, DevOps, networks/storage, and new routes to market; while I like to cover systems, systems software, infrastructure, predictive management, analytics, mobile, security and business-related changes.  In Jane’s write-up (in this edition of PundIT), she covers IBM’s new BlueMix DevOps (development/operations) environments, cloud computing standards advances, and a new route to market (IBM’s new Service Engage program).  In this write-up, I focus on a major business change that I see taking place: the transformation of IBM from a traditional systems/software/services supplier to a public/private cloud services provider.


The annual Pulse conference is a knowledge sharing, hands-on product training, sales and marketing event sponsored by IBM and usually held in Las Vegas, Nevada.  This year more than 11,000 people (IBM customers, business partners, and sales/marketing executives) attended this conference.  In years gone by Pulse has focused on service management, cloud development, security, mobile computing, application performance management, system/storage/network management, development environments, as well as on a variety of asset management products offered by IBM.  But this year, the focus of this event distinctly changed.  Pulse has become “the industry’s premier cloud computing event”.

To better understand what has changed at this conference it is necessary to understand how IBM has aligned strategically.  IBM’s strategy is focused on four pillars: 1) cloud computing; 2) analytics; 3) social; and, 4) mobile computing.  In past Pulse conferences, IBM’s focus was to promote its Tivoli management offerings; its asset management Maximo and Tririga; its Rational development tools; its Mobile First mobile environments; and its security products.  The emphasis at IBM in past conferences was to sell these products to its customers for PRIVATE CLOUD deployment.  What changed this year is that IBM is now focusing on selling both private and PUBLIC CLOUD offerings – as well as more strongly than ever before focusing on streamlining application design, deployment and management in the cloud.

This shift from an emphasis on private cloud sales to an emphasis on both private and public cloud sales is a huge change for IBM.  What it means is that IBM will continue to use a traditional sales model (direct sales and business partnerships) to service its enterprise private cloud customers – while evolving a new model that services public cloud customers driven by digital engagements where IBM is a provider of a wide range of cloud services.

It can be argued that IBM has been a provider of public cloud services for several years (after all, it acquired a very powerful public cloud software company last year [SoftLayer], and has offered back-end “grid computing” and analytics services for quite some time).  But what I saw at this year’s Pulse is a huge commitment by IBM to establish a leadership role in providing hosted, public cloud services.

Event Notes: The Expo Floor

As is usually the case when I attend IT industry events, I make a beeline to the demo/expo floor.  This is where I find IBM customers/prospects to talk with; its where IBM’s business partners hang-out most of the time; and its where I can see IBM products in action.

The first thing I noticed about the Expo floor set up was that it was comprised of four main sections which, ironically, mirrored IBM’s strategy (cloud, analytics, social, and mobile sections).  I found this curious because Pulse in the past has been a management event – and now, it appears, Pulse has become a showcase for all four major IBM strategies.  And this begs the question: “why have a separate event for management; then a separate event for analytics (IBM’s Information on Demand conference); then a separate event for collaboration (IBM’s Impact event); then a separate event for storage (Edge) – and so on?”  At this year’s Pulse IBM showcased all of its leading technologies and effectively showed how all of these technologies can work together in unison in both public and private cloud environments.  To me, showing a large number of customers/attendees how IBM products can work across four major initiatives in concert makes a strong impression that other IT vendors don’t or can’t make.  It says: “we are IBM and we can deliver all of the elements that you need in an integrated fashion to help you seamlessly run your business”.  If I were in control of IBM’s event budget, I’d run a single, large comprehensive event like the new Pulse once or twice a year at various locations around the world – and I’d focus that event on showing how all four of my company’s technologies work together in concert to help enterprises focus on deploying integrated solutions rather than focusing on the integration of various technologies.  I think IBM’s differentiation in integration – as well as the expansiveness of its products and services – could be more strongly emphasized in this manner.

As I continued to explore the Expo floor, I came to a section on the floor where IBM had actually brought in systems hardware.  The name of this section was “infrastructure matters” – and on display were IBM’s System z (mainframe), Power Systems, and PureSystems.  This, to me, was a real curiosity because I had never seen IBM hardware on display at any major “software” event before.  It was almost like IBM was making this statement: “we are a solutions company – and these are the hardware/infrastructure solutions that underlie our cloud, analytics, mobile, and social environments.”  In the past, IBM software and hardware organizations acted like separate silos.  But now, at this event, I saw evidence that these organizations are truly working together to bring seamlessly integrated solutions to market.

As a final note on the Expo floor, I noticed that the demonstration booths were constantly packed with IBM customers and prospects.  When I left the Expo floor to go to the conference room areas, I found that some sessions were heavily attended while others were lightly attended because conference attendees were spending so much time looking at and evaluating IBM product solutions in the Expo area.  My read on why this was occurring is that conference attendees already understand why they need certain technologies (so they don’t need to attend conference briefings about why they need to take certain actions nor do they necessarily need to listen to how other organizations have successfully deployed certain technologies).  Instead, the heavy Expo floor attendance indicated to me that there is a real thirst to know how various products work – and a real thirst to see the products in action.

Event Notes: What Was New and Different

There were several new announcements at this year’s Pulse including the acquisition of Cloudant (a no SQL environment); the availability BlueMix (a Platform-as-a-Service/DevOp environment for cloud environments); and a statement of direction that Power Systems will be integrated with SoftLayer using OpenStack (cloud standards).  There was also a discussion of new IBM Management-as-a-Service offerings.   Jane Clabby covers some of these announcements in her report.

In addition to new announcements, there was also a discussion of a concept that IBM calls “ the composable business”.  In IBM’s view, businesses can establish a strong competitive advantage if they run their operations on a dynamic cloud environment.  This cloud would consist of a tightly integrated, secure cloud infrastructure upon which various business services can be delivered.  Businesses would be able to construct services using building blocks of applications/services which could introduce new functions to the business or that could streamline business processes.  To me, this discussion sounded like a service-oriented architecture discussion from years ago – but with one important difference – the infrastructure and tools are now really in place to allow enterprises to build a dynamic, component/service-oriented architecture that can allow a business to truly operate in a service-composable manner.  Using this “composable” approach, businesses can finally quickly build and deploy new cloud-based services – enabling those businesses to quickly adapt to changing market conditions while also enabling those businesses to streamline business process flows and make better use of their IT investments.

Finally, IBM set up a separate locale at this event that was geared for application developers (a Developer Forum).  I ventured over to this Forum and listened to developers share their perspectives on how to build new application environments using a variety of tools and languages – which was interesting, but not really “my thing” – so I quickly returned to the main tent event.  Worthy of noting, however, was that the lunch being served at the main event was a healthy assortment of proteins, carbohydrates and fats.  At the Developer Forum, however, the lunch consisted of pizza, chips, Mountain Dew and other sugary substances.  Funny…

Summary Observations

The Pulse conference has changed.  It is no longer a “management show” – it now showcases a wide range of IBM capabilities that include security intelligence, optimized IT service management, smarter infrastructure, analytics, mobile computing and more.  Pulse has now become more of an “integrated solutions” conference.

In the past, my take on attendees was that a lot were at Pulse to learn more about “why” certain technologies should be used.  They wanted to understand the business reasons and impact of using a given technology.  This year, it appears to me that there was more interest in “how” technologies actually operated.  I think this means that attendees have already justified their cloud investments, deployed their cloud architectures – and are now looking to broaden the scope of their clouds by introducing new technologies that will make it possible to introduce new cloud services.  In other words, clouds are starting to move into a more mature phase.

As stated earlier, I was delighted to see a section of the show dedicated to “infrastructure matters” – because it really does.  Infrastructure must be flexible (to allow for new services to be added easily), while also being reliable and secure.  What I’ve noticed about IBM’s approach when it comes to infrastructure over the past few years is that IBM tends to want to focus its customers on the solutions that run on top of the infrastructure – rather than having infrastructure technology discussions with their customers.  They want their customers to believe that IBM can readily deliver integrated infrastructures to serve a wide variety of customer needs (in cloud, analytics,  social and mobile environments) – so the company wants to shift to a more business benefit/solution discussion with its customers.  I happen to believe that IBM can deliver the broadest array of infrastructure solutions in the industry – but, if I were a buyer, I’d want to know how IBM’s various infrastructure offerings work (and I’d want to verify that they work).  Having a section devoted to infrastructure at a formerly “software show” is a big step forward for IBM.  It gives IBM customers and prospects a real proof point that infrastructure matters and that IBM can indeed provide highly integrated, high performance infrastructure solutions.  Judging from the Expo floor activity in this section, my belief is that customers were very interested in examining IBM’s infrastructure matters solutions – and based upon some of the discussions that I overheard in this section, my take is that customers really liked what they were hearing.

All-in-all, I like the direction that the new Pulse event has taken.  It is now a broader “technology solutions event” that showcases IBM product offerings in cloud, analytics, social and mobile environments.  I’d like to see IBM eliminate their large specialized events around collaboration, analytics, storage, and more – and instead do this type of event twice a year at various locations around the world.  By doing more “combined” events, my belief is that IBM customers would get a more solutions-focused view of how all IBM technologies work in concert together – and this more focused view could go a long way in helping IBM customers build their “composable enterprise” strategies of the future.

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