Musical Chairs and a New Name at IBM

Analytics & Cognitive - Other
  • Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times


Is IBM at it again? Are they on the verge of another renaming event? Internal memos seem to indicate that it has already happened.

If you have been around the IBM i world long enough, you know there’s really only one thing that is constant—IBM’s primal need to rename things every few years. This time it’s not the i itself that’s being renamed, but Power Systems may not be Power Systems much longer.

And the changes are not limited to the Power Systems group. It all began with the retirement of long-time IBM hand Robert LeBlanc, who headed up the IBM Cloud division.

With a vacancy open, the game of musical chairs began, and when the music finally stopped, IBM had mashed the Cloud Division and the Analytics Division (where Watson lives) together and put them under IBM Research Director Arvind Krishna, creating a $30 billion division.

The former director of the Analytics Division, Bob Picciano, was then moved over to head up the Power Systems Division. And the one who had been in charge of Power Systems, Doug Balog, headed back to the storage area where he hails from to take over the Storage Client Success group.

Why all the changes, and how will this impact Power Systems? Some of it makes sense from a business perspective. For example, moving Doug Balog back to the storage area comes at a time when IBM is making a real push in the storage arena. This area has been in flux for IBM, with the UNIX-based Power Systems shrinking, the IBM i Power Systems finally stabilizing and hopefully getting ready to grow, and the Linux-based system experiencing double-digit growth. Certainly, it is IBM’s hope to capitalize on the Linux growth and grab an increased share of the storage business that is out there. Balog’s long familiarity with this market should be a real plus.

Even Picciano’s move to Power Systems makes some sense as IBM attempts a subtle rebranding of the machines and software in this area. The big news for us in the i world is that, in the internal memos that described these changes, the Power Systems group was frequently referred to as the Cognitive Systems group. This is certainly a marketing move to take advantage of the cachet that the word “cognitive” has in the market. Cognitive things are always superior; they are new and modern. Who wouldn’t want to have a relationship with cognitive capabilities? And branding the current Power Systems offerings as “cognitive systems” is the perfect launching point to continue the assault on the x86 world.

Whether shifting the name of the Power Systems Group from something that is widely recognized in the business to a name that, while sexy, really doesn’t get to the heart of what the offerings in that group represent (throughput) makes sense is another question. But companies are often willing to roll the dice on a name change if it can take advantage of the latest hot buzzword.

The new Cognitive Systems group will continue to contain everything that was bundled under Power Systems, namely IBM i, Linux, and AIX-based servers, with all of the hardware and software offerings that are currently available.

Perhaps the best piece of news for the Power Sys… er, I mean Cognitive Systems crowd is that Picciano will report directly to Tom Rosamilia, the #2 man at IBM and the odds-on favorite to succeed Ginni Rometty when she retires. Tom is committed to the success of the Cognitive Systems division and specifically to seeing the Power chips take a serious bite out of the X86 market.

“In this role, he [Picciano] will lead the Power business – taking it to the next level as we double down to disrupt X86 and make Power the platform for the cognitive era,” Rosamilia said in his own memo to employees in the Systems group. “With his leadership in transforming our data and analytics portfolio, Bob is ideally suited for this opportunity.” (Source: )

Not everything in the Cognitive Systems world is changing immediately, of course. POWER8 is still being referred to by that name, but it will be interesting to see what happens when the POWER9 chips come out in the spring. Will they be rebranded with the Cognitive moniker? Guess we’ll have to stay tuned to find out.