System i and i5/OS Are Cornerstones in IBM's SMB Plans, Says Shearer

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A guiding light in the evolution of the System i says i5/OS is the "secret sauce" in the simplicity formula to reach a larger share of the SMB market.


The System i operating system, i5/OS, is here to stay, and IBM is prepared to do whatever it takes to continue to make it an attractive, modern, and viable platform.


So says Mark Shearer, IBM vice president of Marketing and Offerings for the Business Systems Division, Systems and Technology Group, who will continue in his role this year developing unique marketing strategies for the System i as an avowed evangelist for the popular midrange platform.


"Almost 50 percent of our systems group clients still use i5/OS in what is often a mission-critical application," says Shearer. "The most attractive feature for many of our clients has been the fact that we have essentially protected their investments in applications for two decades." Adds Shearer, "It's very clear that our clients want us to continue to allow them to bring forward their i5/OS applications and support i5/OS on future hot products."


In Shearer's view, i5/OS is the "secret sauce" of the System i and the ingredient that delivers to clients and users alike the "value of simplicity" inherent in the IBM midrange platform. As such, users can expect to see IBM increase the visibility of i5/OS this year and in the future. "We will absolutely double down on i5/OS and continue to introduce it in the platforms our clients want," he says.


In an interview with MC Press Online editors, Shearer acknowledged that Business Systems Division clients spend far more on Windows, UNIX, and other platforms than they do on the System i, about three times as much. So the challenge is to simplify the IT environment and, hopefully, provide an integrated IBM solution that rebalances the equation in IBM's favor. The BladeCenter S in which small and medium businesses can integrate i5/OS, Windows, and UNIX applications on blades is proving to be a popular choice for businesses looking to save on space, energy, and technical support costs. Shearer said one of his goals last year was to port i5/OS onto a blade and implied the realization of that objective in this year's announcement has been a source of personal satisfaction.


"The BladeCenter is one of the most popular products for small and medium businesses," says Shearer. "This year clients will be able to completely integrate their i5/OS apps and their Wintel apps in a single platform.... I think that many clients will use this new platform in really imaginative ways, and it's quite a compelling value proposition for clients that have a mix of Wintel, [Lintel], i5/OS, [and PHP] applications."


Shearer pointed out that having all applications on one platform, or form factor, and being able to manage them with one set of tools will allow IBM to address a broader segment of the SMB market. As the company rolls out Power6 technology throughout the course of 2008, users can expect to see continual improvement in the "price to value proposition," he says, adding that the "cornerstone" of the IBM offerings will be i5/OS, which the company will continue to "mainstream" on the most popular SMB systems platforms.


Regardless of any promotion of its product lines that the company may do, Shearer says that client needs will drive the company's marketing efforts, and the orientation toward a "client-centric" sales model is already proving successful. He points to improved sales results for the System i in the fourth quarter of last year as evidence of the changes IBM is making to better address clients' business needs, results that are founded in having a sales force versed on several platforms instead of just one, new products, and an approach concentrating on vertical markets that allows for specialization of knowledge and applications.


While IBM is working to integrate its hardware and software offerings, it also is integrating its business support groups to offer clients a more rounded solution. "We're going to be working with our colleagues in the software group, in our services organization, in our financing team, and sales and integrate more of IBM's capability into future product offerings," says Shearer. Part of the current approach to the SMB market includes collaboration among knowledge experts as well as enablement of Business Partners to adopt the rapid deployment of new technologies that will be coming down the pipeline in 2008.


New technologies such as PowerVM and the software advances that will now be possible as a result of the Power6 chip, not to mention the emphasis on platform integration, will require training and special knowledge beyond what many Business Partners currently possess. Shearer said there is a plan in place to offer more training to bring IBM's partners up to speed on the accelerating stream of technology advances.


IBM is creating what Shearer called "value nets," or relationships between Business Partners, to provide cross-partner access to skills and capabilities beyond what any individual one might possess now. "We're going to help leverage our partners' current capabilities as part of our vertical industry focus...and share skills to solve a client need rather than everyone having to be qualified in every capability," Shearer says. He uses the example of one partner's having, say, expertise in produce distribution software being able to partner easily with another who is more expert in i5/OS systems. "We're trying to enable partnering of our ISV partners, our resellers, so people can be specialized but have the full capability we need to solve client problems."


Along with the value-net relationships, IBM will continue to offer online and classroom education for the most important product and technology topics. Driving new technologies into the hands of business users calls for implementation of a set of "robust enablement" plans that IBM will put into effect throughout the year, according to Shearer.


Looking ahead, Shearer says that much of his time is spent helping to work out the details of a new computing paradigm for the SMB market that involves "the best of software as a service, the best of Web service delivery, and the best of on-premise computing," combining them into a simpler, more flexible IT environment. The System i platform and the System i ISVs will be the "cornerstone" for the model, he says, with the System i serving as the central point around which all integrated services and applications will be managed.


Shearer says that because of his four years working with the System i community, it's natural for him to continue his relationship with the System i, though he is now operating in a more matrixed environment than as he did as general manager. The new approach requires very close teamwork with Shearer's boss, Erich Clementi, general manager of the Business Systems Division, and other IBM executives, a collaboration that promises to greatly enhance the products and services available to System i partners and users, resources that are expected to increase IBM's share of the SMB market.