Year End Review: IBM Systems Group

By Joe Clabby, Clabby Analytics

Tom Rosamilia, Senior Vice President of IBM Systems group, recently presented his annual year-end recap. In his opening statement he started with a review of IBM’s mission in the IT marketplace; to “continue to transform and innovate in technology, business models, and skills for the cognitive era.” He then pointed out several of IBM acquisitions that illustrate the company’s focus in these areas, including: Truven Health Analytics, explorsys, Merge, clearleap, USTREAM, The Weather Company and more.

What jumped out at me was that most of the new solutions that IBM has brought to market are focused on specific industries, like healthcare, or are focused on helping other vendors bring analytics solutions to the market, such as The Weather Company. Although IBM continues to deliver the infrastructure, database and transaction products it always has, it must be noted that the company truly sees itself as a leader in analytics and cognitive solutions.

IBM Systems’ accelerated 2016

Rosamilia underscored this point with a review of the key products in his portfolio that support the company’s emphasis on analytics. These included the activities that have taken place around IBM’s POWER architecture, its z Systems/LinuxONE offering, and in storage. Coincidently, in 2016, Clabby Analytics wrote in-depth reports on each of these topics, including this POWER 9 report, this LinuxONE report and this storage/software defined report.

Rosamilia’s POWER commentary highlighted innovations around the company’s OpenPOWER initiative (which we cover in-depth in this blog), as well as IBM’s emphasis on extraordinarily fast Power-based servers that leverage other processor architectures, such as NVIDIA graphical processing units (GPU) to serve the analytics marketplace.

He focused on Google and Rackspace’s efforts to develop an open server specification using IBM’s forthcoming POWER9 architecture, then described 2016’s arrival of POWER LC servers that combine POWER8 processors with NVIDIA’s GPUs and NVLink interconnect technologies. Rosamillia also spent time discussing IBM open sourcing its CAPI (Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface) technology and the progress being made within the OpenCAPI Consortium; and the company’s continuing efforts with NVIDIA to deliver Power AI solutions.

My key take-aways from this discussion was that IBM is continuing to aggressively build “accelerated systems” that use multiple types of processors to accelerate analytics workloads, and that IBM is successfully engaging open communities to help build solutions on its POWER architecture and complementary technologies.

Z Systems, LinuxONE and Blockchain

The key points that Rosamilia chose to focus on regarding the company’s z Systems/LinuxONE mainframe architecture centered on positioning LinuxONE for hybrid cloud environments; the use of z13s for encrypted hybrid clouds; the relationship of the z/OS operating environment and the Apache Spark movement (a better way of processing large volumes of analytics data than Hadoop); the EZSource acquisition (for code analysis) ; and the availability of secure cloud services for Blockchain on LinuxONE.

The new “news” in Rosamilia’s review of z System/LinuxONE was his emphasis on Blockchain and HSBN (the company’s “high security business network”). Blockchain serves as the basis for creating a new way to perform transaction processing, one that features a secure “open ledger” that is shared amongst all concerned parties during the transaction. This new approach streamlines transaction and business processes and enables significantly greater security that traditional approaches.

I had not been aware that IBM had created a service offering featuring IBM LinuxONE servers overlaid with Hyperledger that enables customers to form smart contracts, to create shared ledger’s, to gather consensus along the route of completing a transaction – all taking place in a secure and private environment. IBM claims that it is making solid headway with this offering in the securities, trade, finance, syndicated loans, supply chain, retail banking, public records and digital property management industries. Rosamilia shared examples of success stories using this LinuxONE/Bluemix offering, including the activities taking place at Wells Fargo, Walmart and Everledger.

IBM Storage in a Flash

In storage, Rosamilia focused on2016 activities that resulted in IBM Flash and software defined solutions. He described efforts to round out the company’s Flash array offerings from the low-end all the way through the high-end, and also described how the company is providing storage solutions driven by software and appliance designs, along with IBM’s storage as a service cloud offerings.

Rosamillia also provided examples of how IBM’s software-defined storage products are being used, including a discussion of DESY (the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron research facility in Germany which is using IBM’s Spectrum Scale to analyze petabytes of data in minutes, not days), the Arizona State Land Department (super-efficient land administration using IBM Flash Systems), and bitly (using IBM Cloud Object Storage to accelerate consumer research with faster, easier access to data derived from capturing over 10 billion online clicks per month).

Summary Observations

Rosamilia’s year-end review of IBM Systems’ highlights was a good 50,000 foot overview of the most important activities that have taken place in 2016. But there is far more going on within this group than meets the eye.

Two years ago, IBM’s POWER organization was struggling: its former UNIX market stronghold was weakening as customers shifted to Linux on x86 architecture and revenues were in strong decline. To right the ship, IBM decided to open source its POWER architecture to the industry. And, as a result, the company has revived its revenue stream while fostering advanced and innovative systems from the OpenPOWER community. What IBM’s POWER organization has done is truly remarkable, they rescued this architecture from the declines suffered by competitors, including Oracle (Sun) and HPE, opened it up for collaborative systems integration, and built incredibly powerful new system designs using POWER processors, GPUs and FPGAs (field programmable gate arrays).

For over 20 years, ever since industry pundits in the mid-1990s forecast the demise of the IBM mainframe, Clabby Analytics has taken the position that there is no other architecture better suited for processing secure transactions (and now in-transaction analytics workloads) than IBM’s z System. Given this position, we see IBM’s new LinuxONE mainframe servers as ideally positioned to support a projected major market move toward Hyperledger and Blockchain transaction processing over the coming years. This movement should greatly escalate the sale of mainframe servers. Long live the mainframe!

As for storage, the markets that IBM and every other enterprise vendor focus on have changed tremendously over the past few years as customers shifted from traditional workloads to include more compute- and data-intensive workloads (genomics, simulations, what/if analysis, cognitive), and next generation Big Data and born-in-the cloud applications, like Hadoop, NoSQL, Spark and Docker. Accordingly, IT executives are now looking for storage and software defined infrastructure options that provide better IT performance, scalability, and agility at significantly lower cost. In addition, these same executives are grappling with rationalizing which workloads belong on-premise – and which workloads can be shifted to low-cost public cloud storage.

To address traditional storage requirements, as well as the new generation of compute- and/or data-intensive applications, IBM has revamped its storage line to include a complete range of solutions (including software-based offerings, services and storage hardware options such as appliances and all-Flash arrays). To many, IBM’s myriad storage offerings may seem confusing but if you look from the perspective of IT managers and executives, storage needs to make full use of varying technologies , needs to accommodate private and public clouds; and needs to support both traditional applications and new workloads, including analytics. IBM storage accomplishes all of these objectives.

IBM’s year-end review was excellent at a high level. But for more details on each initiative, take a look at our free reports on IBM LinuxONE, IBM storage and software defined storage, and POWER architecture at

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