POWERUp 18 Recap

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COMMON’s POWERUp 18 showcased new hardware editions and cognitive solutions.

I’m going to bounce around a little with my topic coverage, because there’s a lot to talk about with regard to POWERUp, COMMON’s newly renamed spring conference that was held in San Antonio last month.

About 1,000 people attended this year. As part of the Board of Directors for COMMON, I try to shake every attendee’s hand and say hello. I haven’t confirmed yet, but it seemed that the number of first-time attendees was up really well this year (we give those people special ribbons to signify them).

I met some first-timers who were just starting with IBM i and some who were 30-year veterans whose companies finally opened up the ability to get some education. I think the economy has recovered to a point where conference attendance will begin to rise again across the board.

IBM i 30th Anniversary Edition

During opening session, it was announced that IBM would be providing an IBM i 30th Anniversary Edition, which builds on the existing IBM i Solution Edition for the Power S914 4-core model with the following features:

  • Expanded ISV participation
  • Waiver of one year of PowerVM SWMA
  • A six-month extended evaluation period for IBM Cloud Storage Solutions for i, which enables clients to back up directly to the cloud

Fresche Solutions, an IBM Business Partner, will be providing gift certificates that recipients can use when registering for Fresche Virtual Education, which teaches clients how to connect existing applications and data to Watson. (I don’t have details about how the gift certificates work, so we’ll have to wait and see.) The Driveway to Watson events, in which people traveled to IBM Rochester to learn how to connect their IBM i systems directly to Watson, were tremendously popular. It’s interesting to see IBM reaching out and leveraging the IBM Business Partner community to provide education on enabling Watson connectivity on customer systems. This leveraging of a Business Partner was one of the only times during the conference you could see a minor throwback to the past.

The PowerVM SWMA waiver is probably my favorite piece of the puzzle because I now work for a Business Partner who’s a hardware reseller. Any time you can reduce cost, the easier it is for customers to move forward with newer iron.

Customers, Robots, and 3D Furniture

I was briefed on the 30th anniversary plans many months ago. The focus was strictly looking to the present and the future. This was not to be any type of retrospective. I think the IBMi25 campaign weighed a little heavy on the legacy of IBM i. Where IBMi25 leaned on platform history, the 30th anniversary highlights what the customer community is doing now to prepare for the future. The ibmi30.mybluemix.net website is the kickoff page, and you want to look there if you think the platform is dead, dying, or even slowing down with age. Customer stories from around the world show how IBM i helps drive businesses—from backend order processing to harnessing the power of IBM Watson. How many times have you heard people complain that nobody talks about what they do with IBM i? Well, here are 30 case studies to show your boss. Scratch that. Here are 30 case studies to help you look at your own business processes in a different light and make them better.

One of my favorite story is from a company called JORI, a luxury furniture manufacturer based in Belgium:

Customers love to view products before they part with their money. There is also an increased desire for personalization and customization, so each consumer can order something unique to them. The company was struggling to meet this need without overwhelming in-store sellers with options. To solve this challenge, JORI created a web-based 3D configurator tool running on IBM i, giving both customers and their sellers realistic virtual previews of a furniture piece that help close sales faster and accelerate manufacturing.

Working with IBM i Business Partner CD-Invest, JORI built the 3D object database in the integrated Db2 for IBM i, and used IBM i RPGLE web services to communicate via JSON with the front-end configurator program, which also runs on IBM i. The front-end was developed using the Unity open source 3D gaming platform, compiled for i using Chroot. Other open source components used for the solution include Ghostscript and ImageMagick for creating print-outs of furniture built in the configurator tool, Substance for creating realistic-looking fabrics for the 3D models, and Drupal to run the website. The entire stack runs on IBM i in a partition on JORI’s existing IBM Power System S814.

JORI is branching out into using IBM Watson cognitive technology to help consumers find their preferred furniture fabric. They are creating a solution where the consumer can submit a photo of the fabric they like, and Watson will cross-reference it with their backend product inventory database to find something similar.

These customer stories do a great job of promoting the IBM i operating system as part of the overall solution. The stories don’t make it out as something it isn’t. For instance, I doubt you’ll see Watson running on IBM i ever. That workload is more in tune with Linux. But what you’ll see is IBM i working with Watson. And part of making that happen is just understanding that a) it’s possible and b) people have done it already. Some of these stories were birthed out of the COMMON conferences or the Driveway to Watson events in the last year or two. People saw at events what you could do with Watson and then went home and executed based on how they thought it could assist their business. Watson’s Harry Potter-themed sorting hat from the COMMON spring conference in Orlando last year was cute. You’d put the hat on, and it would pick your house (I got Gryffindor, I think). The magic, if you will, is the ability to take natural language or image recognition and apply it practically. That’s why Watson has really taken hold in the medical field; the ability to recognize patterns and interpret more raw data than any human brain can gives Watson the ability to make recommendations with a high degree of accuracy. For instance, Watson can analyze a picture of a mole and make an educated determination on whether it’s cancerous with a 90 percent level of accuracy. That type of technology isn’t consumer-grade at this point, but the capability is there for early warning and a recommendation to see your doctor. Watch this space.

In the expo, IBM had some very polished robots that understood natural language. The biggest attraction was Pepper, and it did a great job of making eye contact and turning its body and head, following a person’s movements. You can see Pepper in action in this 30th anniversary video, where it’s talking to IBM Champion Liam Allan. There’s an alternate video in which Pepper and Liam dance at the end, but out of respect for Liam, you’ll have to find that one for yourself. Pepper’s voice recognition is powered by Watson. Other robots were less talkative and a little smaller but far more mobile. To be fair, if you’re doing a cloud-connected demo at a conference, it’s never without minor (or catastrophic) problems, so I’ll spare you my personal recorded interactions with Pepper and offer up a better explanation/demo here. The main problem was actually not the language recognition connectivity to Watson. It was the heat. Pepper moves about a lot, so when it gets hot, parts of it shut down intentionally in order to reduce heat output. When it cools down, those parts start up again. I think if the expo floor had been a few degrees colder, the demonstration would’ve been much more effective.

The Takeaway

The value of any conference is to take home with you the knowledge and inspiration you’ve gained in order to make a difference in your own organization. At POWERUp 19 in Anaheim, there’s a good chance you’ll see the result of that in far more customer-ingenuity case studies. Cognitive is really taking off. Now that people are getting confident with what they can do with Watson, I think the next couple of years will allow the IBM i community to evolve and grow their processes to take advantage of Watson’s capabilities.