Monday, December 19, 2016

IBM Systems - year-end review

By Rich Ptak

It’s been a busy year for IBM, what with transitioning, proliferating use cases for Cognitive Solutions, the rapid buildup in their Cloud platform ecosystem and announcements of a series of innovative industry-specific solutions and projects, LinuxONE mainframe activities, the OpenCAPI initiative, etc. You might even expect they might slow down a bit.

Nothing even resembling that appears to be in the cards. IBM CEO Ginny Rometty led off the week announcing that IBM will hire 25000 new US employees while investing $1 billion for employee training and development. This is to take place over the next 4 years.  And, she promises the focus will be on “new collar” hires, i.e. skills-based, rather than focusing simply on “higher education” requirements. The needed skills include cloud computing technicians and specialists in service delivery acquired in vocational training or “on-the-job”. IBM collaborated in the curriculum design and implementation of schools to do the training. You can learn more about these Pathways in Technology Early College High Schools (P_TECH)  here[1].  This spending is in addition to the $6 billion spent annually on R&D projects. This is hardly the behavior of a company unsure about its future. But, I digress.

In the same week, Tom Rosamilia, Senior Vice President, IBM Systems held his annual review on the status of IBM Systems. Taking place prior to year-end results reporting, it was light on financial details. But, the broad strokes presented a company that was seeing both progress and positive returns.  In a turbulent and rapidly evolving business environment, IBM had embarked upon a bet-the-business strategy of transformation and innovation in technology, business models and skills to address the challenges of the evolving era of cognitive computing.

IBM committed to the cognitive era before it was fully defined and clearly defined as a viable market. Early hallmarks of the changing environment were the growth of cloud-based and Infrastructure-as -a-Service enterprise computing. Rosamilia quoted industry research that states that by 2022, an estimated 40% of all compute capacity would be provided through service providers. And, some 70% would be in hybrid (combination of on- and off-premise infrastructure).  Such configurations meant IBM’s systems infrastructure-based revenue streams would need altered delivery and service models to grow. 

In response, IBM Systems altered its operating model to focus on three main areas:
  1. Cognitive Solutions – through partnerships and initiatives that grow the ecosystem and increase use cases, scaling up performance and making it easier to leverage the technology.
  2. Cloud platform – building out the ecosystem, increasing accessibility by building out available services and tools and expanding utility with easy access to the newest technologies.
  3. Industry Solutions – focus on providing servers, services, platforms along with innovative solutions optimized and targeted to resolve industry-specific challenges.

In 2016, the systems product portfolio was divided into 3 areas: 
  1. The Power chip-based systems targeting the market with Open Computing (e.g. Open Compute Project), Power LC servers with NVIDIA NVLink™ for specific workloads models, the OpenCAPI[2] Consortium (dedicated to developing a standard that allows cross-vendor access to CAPI acceleration) and the OpenCAPI Consortium (developing a standard that allows cross-vendor access to CAPI acceleration), and PowerAI –  an IBM partnership with Nvidia that enables simplified access and installation of platforms for deep learning and HPC efforts;; 
  2. the zSystems with LinuxONE for hybrid clouds, high security z13s with encryption for hybrid clouds, Apache Spark support on z/OS and (the blockbuster) secure blockchain services on LinuxONE available via Bluemix or on-premise; and finally,
  3. IBM lit up the Storage /SDI (software defined infrastructure) markets with all-flash arrays available across their complete portfolio and a complete suite of software-defined storage solutions. There are plenty more coming with IBM Cloud Object Storage solution, cloud support for IBM Spectrum Virtualize and DeepFlash ESS. We don’t cover the areas, so we won’t comment more.

IBM will continue to stir things up as they expand and enhance deliverables in these areas in 2017. There is a special focus in Cognitive Computing where speed in data access and computational power are critical. Power systems with CAPI are specifically designed for Hi-speed, computationally dense computing. They benefit from partner developed accelerators. Cost is a major issue in high-performance analytics and computing. Power systems with CAPI and accelerators offer significant price/performance advantages over general purpose systems.

Block chain has been a major news item this past year. Use cases are proliferating as understanding of the technology and accessibility grows. Both significantly benefiting from IBM offerings of easy flexible access options to the technology, as well as training including some which are free.  Financial, healthcare[3] and business use cases for blockchain in secure networks are proliferating.  IBM is and will continue to be a major booster and contributor in the spread of this technology. IBM is offering secure blockchain cloud services on-premise or via Bluemix cloud with either LinuxONE or Power LC systems. 

Rosamilia discussed a number of activities underway with clients and customers expected to deliver in 2017. These include collaboration with Google and Rackspace using a Zaius server (running on yet-to-be generally available) Power9 chip and OpenCAPI to deliver 10x faster server performance on an “advanced, accelerated computing platform…(delivering an)…open platform, open interfaces, open compute”.  There is the blockchain/(HSBN) high security business network with existing and potential application across a range of business functions. These include securities transactions, supply chain, retail banking, syndicated loans, digital property management, etc.
Tom Rosamilia described how Walmart uses blockchain to guarantee the integrity of food from farm to consumer. Sensors packaged with farm products are tracked from farm to final consumer purchase to assure environmental conditions (e.g. temperature exposure) have been maintained. More examples are available (see our recent blog[4] on blockchain).

The session concluded with the list of technologies where IBM is investing. These include POWER9, LinuxONE, zNext (the next generation mainframe!), all-flash systems, next generation computing (beyond silicon), open ecosystems, blockchain and (presumably LARGE) object storage. We believe that their bets were well-placed. There is still much to be done, but it appears to us that Ginny Rometty and IBM will keep every one of those 25,000 new hires very, very busy.

[2] CAPI (Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface) developed by IBM for and initially only available on Power systems. It resolves the increasingly serious data access and transfer bottlenecks problems to improve system performance by a power of 10.)

Friday, December 9, 2016

OpenPOWER, Blockchain and more on IBM’ s Workload-driven infrastructure to “Outthink the status quo!”

By Rich Ptak

At and after IBM’s 2016 Edge even (which had over 5500 attendees), IBM has been spreading the word about and providing the experience of how IBM’s app-, service- and workload-driven infrastructure enables users to “Outthink the status quo” to drive their success. Combining agile infrastructure with enterprise digitization means pushing (if not demolishing) operational boundaries and creating business models that yield previously inconceivable solutions and capabilities to overcome challenges previously viewed as intractable or unresolvable.

Enterprises ranging from the very largest to start-ups are succeeding in innovative application of IBM and IBM-partner provided infrastructure that fully leverages cloud, cognitive and system technologies. Edge 2016 was a head-spinning event with lots of technology and technical detail, but also with benefits and operational advantages presented in terms highlighting positive enterprise impact. IBM used the event to first impress, then inspire customers to act to exceed their own expectations of what was possible. Here’s some of what impressed us.
It’s a platform view
Infrastructure remains vitally important as a means for accessing and leveraging the power of technology. Meeting the performance requirements of cutting-edge solutions (e.g. autonomous vehicles), as well as day-to-day apps (e.g. 3-D printing of medical prosthetics) is no easy task.  Doing so requires infrastructure that functions as an integrated platform combining elements from multiple sources. All of which must work together to transparently deliver the data storage capacity, access (CAPI accelerators) and processing speeds to match operational and computing demands. New capabilities in Dev/OPS are transforming the developer’s ability to access, exploit and manage the infrastructure in innovative ways, even as it changes how this is done by allowing educated users to define custom services themselves.
A major message from the event detailed how enterprises, research, market-driven, education, small and large and even individuals are accomplishing things that were previously unimagined, even unimaginable. This is possible, not simply because of the power of the technology, but also because of the increased, often cloud-based accessibility to the technology along with UIs that simplify (relatively) app creation.
Now, infrastructure provides a platform, on-premise or in a cloud, that uses elements from multiple different suppliers working transparently to the developer/user and, if necessary, across multiple platforms (mobile, cloud, server, etc.) to create a product, deliver a service or perform a function. The developer, researcher or whatever-user faces a constantly evolving, highly competitive world. A successful product/service must be able to quickly take advantage of emerging technology changes. Infrastructure platforms allow that to happen. Also, typically, a service, app, or product available across multiple infrastructure platforms has a competitive advantage. IBM is committed to delivering, as partners and customers substantiate, the products, whether hardware (mainframe, Power Systems, etc.), software or service with the required flexibility.
Taking on big challenges, succeed by outthinking the status quo
IBM noted a trend and called out a challenge to attendees. A major theme in Key Note speeches, presentations and on the show flow, was an emphasis on large enterprises, as well as smaller companies and individuals tackling big challenges. There remains plenty of tech talk and technology detail, but the focus was on the potential of today’s systems, applications and services. Recognition of that potential inspired users (enterprise and individual) to take on significant challenges in personal life, society, medicine, scientific research, etc.

These can be about on-line dating/matchmaking (PlentyOfFish), gaming (Pokemon) which just happened to double Nintendo’s capitalization to $42B in 10 days, or radically expanding access to mobile banking services for a previously grossly underserved market of transnational workers across East and West Africa.

Or, they can be a REALLY big problem, i.e. solving world hunger, curing cancer, guiding autonomous cars or solving the digital trust problem with a radically secure, peer-to-peer distributed ledger (Hyperledger). Hyperledger is an open source project from the Linux Foundation designed to enable the next generation of transactional applications by automating trust, accountability and transparency using blockchain technology. Technology which IBM makes freely easily accessible and usable to developers, and as a for-fee, highly-secure turnkey service, via its Bluemix cloud platform. (See IBM Blockchain.) Blockchain promises to have major impact in multiple markets from contract management (outsourcing) to financial transactions (cross bank, foreign exchange Letters-of-Credit) to provenance documenting for anything from agricultural products (farm-to-fork) to drugs and medical devices.

IBM Blockchain activities have exploded since its early 2016 announcement. Today, they provide access to Blockchain development services and support at centers worldwide. Blockchain Bluemix garages are in New York, London, Singapore, Toronto and Tokyo while Bluemix technology incubators are in Nice, Melbourne and San Francisco. Each week, it seems that market segments and use cases for Blockchain emerge, even as vendor offerings and services expand. IBM has clearly positioned itself to benefit as a result.

The net is that IBM is betting its business on providing broad access to that infrastructure products and services that will drive the next generation of innovation and technology-powered advancements. They are focused on the infrastructure in terms of cloud, mobile, IoT, cognitive computing and targeting markets with solutions. But, they are also investing in accessing and applying new and emerging technologies. They are building communities and ecosystems for cooperative innovation. Providing services and fabric to make it easier for these communities to leverage each other and the technologies. IBM challenged all attendees to stretch their imaginations and outthink the status quo in applying technology in both their professional and personal lives. They invited those that did to return to Las Vegas to tell their stories at Edge 2017.
The Products
Edge without products just wouldn’t be right. IBM titillated the chip community last summer with hints about Power9 which is due late 2017. To satisfy immediate demand, IBM announced a new line of OpenPOWER LC models optimized for specific market segments and styles of computing. Models included:
  1. An entry level model, the IBM Power System S812LC for customers just starting with Big Data.
  2.  IBM Power System S821LC, a 1U form factor with 2 Power8 processors.
  3. IBM Power System S822LC for Big Data. 
  4. IBM Power System S822LC for Commercial Computing.
  5. IBM Power System S822 LC for High Performance Computing, the latest POWER8 with NVLink - a high speed link between the CPU and onboard GPUs.

IBM’s Power Systems strategy continues to focus on chip advancements combined with design for specific computing models/markets and use of partner-developed accelerators and devices for additional performance enhancements.

We discuss these in our blog available at IBM also discussed a range of new applications of Watson and Watson Analytics, along with programs to provide easy, affordable access to these capabilities for developers, students and researchers. Multiple plans are available (starting at $30/month,) as well as a free introductory offer that packages access to data bases and analytics. See: for details.

The mainframe continues to make its mark as IBM comes up with new ways to provide more power, speed and versatility without raising hardware prices.
Before we finish
There is a view that the age of the small, upstart entrepreneur is over. This was the focus of the September 17th-23rd issue of The Economist. A special report about the world’s most powerful companies explains “why the age of entrepreneurialism ushered in by…Thatcher and Reagan…is giving way to an age of corporate consolidation.” The article asserts:
  1. Large corporations dominate growth, market capitalization, revenues and profits globally. They (alone) have the cash, talent and savvy to maintain these positions.
  2. Entrepreneurial endeavors are declining.
  3. Emerging entrepreneurs opt for quick buy-outs by “superstar firms” over IPOs. 
  4. Despite a growing backlash, the superstar firms successfully lobby EU and national politicians for favorable treatment (corporatism).
  5. Technology and infrastructure trends, e.g. IOT favor the superstars.
Statistics, charts and considerable consulting firm cogitation back up these opinions.
We believe the conclusions are too pessimistic. There have been a significant number of roadblocks to progress and investment in start-up and small firms have been in-place and significantly added to in the last decade. These range from the economic (protectionism, unstable markets, inflation) to escalating governmental regulation (excessive mandates, quixotic regulation, direct interference) to lack of investor confidence. But, the environment is changing.
This partially due to shifts in attitudes and partially to tectonic shifts in both the political and societal environments currently underway in multiple countries. It is also due to the rapid evolution of new technologies; the creative application of which is easier and more widespread than ever before. There is an increasing emphasis by existing and emerging technology leaders on making it easier to leverage and constructively apply technology. IBM has been a leader by providing easy, low, cocost access for operational entrepreneurial and sandbox activities with Blockchain, Cognitive Computing, Watson Analytics, OpenPower Systems, Bluemix and cloud technologies. 
What’s the message?  
As described by Tom Rosamilia, IBM System SVP, what was once a discussion about technology, the conversation is now about business. More precisely, the discussion is about solving a problem whether business, financial, design, discovery or implementing a previously inconceivable or unimaginable service.

IBM’s message emphasized unleashing the underlying, deep competitive drive unique to humans. To direct their efforts to outthink their competition (in whatever form) to pursue the solution of the really difficult problems, in innovative definition of and delivery of new services and by identifying and pursuing radical opportunity.

IBM’s customers are pursuing all of these. In the process they clearly demonstrated that IBM’s goods and services are playing a leading role in unleashing a veritable tsunami of innovation and creativity to resolve all sorts of business, enterprise or even societal problems The stories told and exhibits at Edge 2016 did a lot to confirm our impressions. We think Edge 2017 is going to be even more enlightening. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

HPE IoT Solutions ease management, reduce risk and cut operating costs

By Bill Moran and Rich Ptak

HPE has invested heavily to deliver IoT solutions. They are well aware of the challenges faced by customers attempting large-scale IoT deployments. Thus, our interest in commenting on the November 30th London Discover announcements of new enhancements to their IoT portfolio. First, a quick overview of the IoT world.

IoT is driven by the belief that enhancing the intelligence gathering (and frequently processing) capabilities of new and existing devices coupled with centralized control will yield personal and/or business benefits. The amount of intelligence (for decision-making, etc.) necessary at the edge of the network (in the device) versus the amount retained centrally (server, controller, etc.) varies widely based the use case. For example, a device monitoring what's in front of an automobile that detects a potential crash situation should make a decision to slam on the brakes locally (in the car). The delay inherent in communicating with a remote controller (in the cloud) would be intolerable.

The complexity inherent in IoT becomes even more complicated when multiple and different devices are involved. Each device type communicates in its own way. Use cases vary by task and industry. The automotive situation discussed is very different from that of a power utility monitoring thousands of meters for billing or consumption-tracking purposes.

Many more scenarios exist, and depending on scale and distribution, some will be very difficult and expensive to deploy. HPE set out to provide solutions that reduce the cost and effort required to deploy, connect and manage this wide variety of distributed devices. Here’s the result.

HPE’s IoT portfolio enhancements are in three categories. First is the new HPE Mobile Virtual Network Enabler (MVNE) intended for mobile virtual network operators (MVNO). It simplifies device management complexity of SIM card[1] deployment and management. HPE MVNE allows the MVNO themselves to setup the SIM delivery and billing service instead of buying the service from a carrier. The resulting reduction in complexity and long term billing management reduces operator costs.

The second enhancement is the HPE Universal IOT (UIoT) Platform. The number of IoT use cases implemented over Low Power WAN (Wide Area Networks) is rapidly increasing. Each with their own infrastructure and management solutions and standards. No single vendor has a management solution that works across all the differing solutions. This meant that businesses, e.g. delivering smart city IoT deployments, had to use multiple management systems. The HPE UIOT software platform will support multiple networks (Cellular, WiFi, LoRA, etc.). Using lightweight M2M protocol, it provides a consistent way to manage the variety of networks, as well as data models and formats.

Third are IoT-related enhancements to HPE Aruba[2] (LAN) networks. HPE introduced the Aruba Clearness Universal Profiler. A standalone software package, it permits customers to quickly see and monitor all devices connecting to wired and wireless networks. Helping to satisfy network audits, security and visibility requirements. It is the ONLY such application purpose-built to identify, classify and view all devices.

Finally, the latest ArubaOS-Switch software release enhances the security features of most of the Aruba access switch family. Features include automatic tunnel creation to isolate network traffic for security devices, smart lighting and HVAC control units, and the ability to set network access control policies for IoT devices.

With these IoT offerings enhancements, HPE has made significant strides toward reducing the complexity and costs facing customers developing and deploying IoT solutions. These are unique tools to help customers economically create and operate an IoT enabled world. HPE also demonstrates its clear understanding of the difficulties that customers are encountering.

It appears to us, that HPE is succeeding in its efforts to provide solutions that reduce the cost and effort required to deploy, connect and manage the wide variety of distributed devices available today. We suspect that there are many who will agree. 

[1] SIM cards provide the interface between a device and a cellular connection.
[2] Acquired for its wireless, campus switching and network access control solutions.