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IBM's Continuing Information Infrastructure Journey

IBM held its Information Infrastructure Analyst Summit in Boston last week, building on the initiative it launched a little over a year ago. While the original launch articulated IBM's direction, it was also very product oriented. This time, the Summit was primarily focused on strategy. Thus, product announcements can be separate and distinct, and can serve as instances of how IBM is actually executing according to its announced direction. But a direction -- in the sense of the vision of where a company is headed -- is something that can be measured in months, quarters and years, whereas products are a point in time to meet an immediate business need.

Information infrastructure is an interesting term. Wikipedia quotes John Pironti (2006) as saying that an information infrastructure is "all of the people, processes, procedures, tools, facilities, and technology which supports the creation, use, transport, storage, and destruction of information." Not surprisingly, no one organization even in a company as large as IBM can supply all the elements of an information infrastructure. As a result, the IBM Summit was primarily represented by two organizations within IBM: Software Group (SWG) and Systems & Technology Group (STG) (hardware). IBM Global Technology Services (GTS) was also on hand.

Raising the Level of Conversation with an Enterprise
The continuing explosion of information growth creates a set of challenges for companies dealing with the complexity of growth while at the same time continuing ongoing cost reductions. One familiar IT vendor value proposition focuses on how to solve information challenges by "optimizing" the information infrastructure. And that goes far beyond just efficiency. Costs can only be squeezed out for so long before affecting service levels. That much broader and more strategic conversation probably has to take place at the CXO level. Though the decisions that may result from that conversation could trickle down into individual products and services, purchasing those products would be authorized according to overall value, rather than a closer introspection into the cost of particular products or services.

Vendors have long sought to move customer conversations up a notch to a "solutions" sale, which takes into account a business need that is satisfied by a particular technology. Now IBM is raising the conversation to an even higher level in trying to help enterprises understand the business context for what it means to optimize the information infrastructure. When the company succeeds in driving this sort of discussion, it is in a very strong position. Few of its competitors can reasonably argue that they have the breadth and depth of products and services that are necessary to fulfill the requirements. And that conversation takes place when great change is happening, i.e. when there are overall challenges to the information infrastructure. Server virtualization is important but it is no magic bullet. Cloud computing is great, but it is not a panacea. While these may be subsumed as part of an overall solution, successful optimization of the information infrastructure has a much broader business impact.

IBM Is Flexing Its Technology Muscles

Lest we forget, IBM is still a high technology company and proud of it. The focus tends to be on the latest announcements, and they deserve their due attention, but IBM can also leverage the intellectual property capital that it has built up over time. For example, the General Parallel File System (GPFS) is a fundamental centerpiece in IBM's Information Infrastructure strategy. That may seem strange because GPFS is nothing new, having been around since 1995. Moreover, GPFS has experienced its greatest success in high performance computing (HPC), and so some might question its applicability in broader business applications. However, don't be fooled into pigeonholing GPFS into simply the HPC use case.

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