In the Wheelhouse: Why System x Sale Is Important to Power Systems and IBM i

Analysis of News Events
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System x is being sold to Lenovo for $2.3 billion. With all due respect to System x, it's about time they pulled the plug. No tears, please. This is a celebration!


IBM System x is going away, and I'm not sad to see it go. Cue the Wayne's World dream sequence effect....


I remember working for an IBM Business Partner many years ago. We sold a good few iSeries and pSeries in our little corner of the market. We sold storage a little less frequently and only when we got wind of a deal. That was our focus: iSeries, pSeries, and storage. xSeries was a different story. Unless some xSeries was a very minor part of a bigger deal that was 100% going to happen, we weren't to even think about selling it, let alone give a customer any form of discount. There was no way we'd compete to win a public tender, and we'd actually turn down sales leads from IBM. It just wasn't worth the time because the margins were so small and other competitors would usually go into the red buying the business at more than their cost just to get some services on the back side or to plump their volume figures.


Fourteen years later for me, the song remains the same. These lower-end servers (which has been the marketing euphemism for "PC server" for many years now, by the way) are a commodity product. For the most part, the only reason I'm typing this article on a Lenovo ThinkPad is because of the long-time eraser head mouse feature. I like it. On the surface, it's what comes to mind when I think about ThinkPads. It's a differentiator that I refuse to part with until the day comes when I'm forced to use a touchpad as my cursor. I use a new T540p, by the way, and I'm forced to use the touchpad for clicking because the darn right/left click buttons are now integrated as one big button. Pressing down on the touchpad doesn't really work so I'm adjusting to gentle "taps" as clicks. If the day comes when the eraser head goes away, I'll then move off ThinkPads. Why? To me, it's the only differentiator as an end user. It's my go-to piece of familiarity that screams ThinkPad. Other than that, it's a laptop. Whoop de do.


That's not to say IBM hasn't done any innovation with System x over the years...far from it. The architecture of the hugely cool, although not so hugely popular, BladeCenter (which is also part of the Lenovo deal) was ahead of its time when announced. It just never caught on as well as anticipated. Predictive Failure Analysis and light path diagnostics were very awesome features of System x and its predecessors.


When I talk to System x customers, the biggest reason for IBM being the purchase choice is usually "service and support." In other commodities, like Internet Service Providers or wireless phone providers, it's usually the same reasons. Now, when I talk to other Power Systems or System z customers, service and support aren't necessarily at the top of the list. No disrespect to Power Systems support intended, mind you. As an IBM i customer, when I've got a problem in the middle of the night and I get a call back from area code 507, I know I'm going to be all right, but I don't think of support as the defining characteristic of Power Systems and IBM i. I think single-level storage, integrated DB2, or one of the other features that truly makes IBM i so recognizable, and that's why many of its advocates are borderline zealots. System x doesn't have that. HP, Dell, IBM...x86-64 just doesn't make my heart flutter because it doesn't do what Power does.


Overall, Lenovo could do what it did with the laptops and tower business it bought back in 2005, which was produce a very good-quality product that retained the most familiar components of the IBM product all while innovating where it made sense. Remember, the cost of those units came down a little once Lenovo began rolling them out to the masses. That's a good history lesson if you continue to use Lenovo in the future for x86-64 computing.


Why is the sale of System x important to customers who use Power Systems iron with IBM i, AIX and Power Linux?




Getting out of the commodity PC server market would satisfy IBM brass, at least to some degree, of the need to trim the low-margin, poor-performing fat off the server business. Lenovo will inherit 7,500 employees and $2.3 billion, and I anticipate them doing great things fighting Dell and HP as the number-three server company in the world, considering they've done a fair job with the PC business since they bought it from IBM back in 2005. IBM can provide more focus and resources toward Power Systems, in which they've already shown tremendous investment, such as their $1 billion investment in Power Linux. The stated focus behind much of what IBM is doing today is big data, cloud, mobile, and analytics (think cognitive computing). Those are strategic areas in which IBM is looking to add value and innovation. In my opinionand based on other announcements, such as Power Systems being integrated with the SoftLayer IaaS offeringPower is going to be a big part of that focus and hopefully the success that follows.


As per the announcement, "Once our development teams began testing Power Systems in the SoftLayer environment, Power's competitive advantage immediately became clear," said Lance Crosby, IBM SoftLayer CEO. "The performance and efficiencies inherent in Power Systems are a real game-changerparticularly when it comes to building out modern, adaptable cloud environments that can handle the next level of Big Data coming our way. The combination of SoftLayer and Power Systems will allow us to take cloud computing to a new level, providing customers with services they hadn't thought were possible."


SoftLayer's first Power Systems services will be Watson-based solutions, offering development environments, APIs, and SDKs in order to allow developers to build cognitive applications.


Another announcement that solidifies that fact is the new IBM Power Development Platform (PDP), which provides developers with no-charge access to POWER7 and POWER7+ iron running IBM i, Linux, and AIX in order to build, test, and port applications. This complements the number of Power Systems Linux Centers around the globe doing similar work, albeit specifically for the Linux community.


Power is making a growth play, more or less a backbone of the big-picture campaigns like Big Data and analytics.


Plus, what's good for Power Systems will be good for the operating systems that run on top of it. The more successful Power Systems becomes, then the more shops have the ability to run IBM i; maybe not at first, but once the hardware is in the door, all anyone needs is a little education on what IBM i is in order to move forward...and an IBM i license, of course.


The less IBM has to worry about competing in the x86-64 market and the more they focus on competing against it with the real value proposition on Power Systems, the better off we're going to be as Power Systems customers. IBM doesn't need the hassle of competing in that market. They have much grander things on the horizon.



Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly


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