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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 www.ptakassociates.blogspot.com. 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: https://www.ibm.com/marketplace/cloud/watson-analytics/ 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.