Editor's Note: Mark Shearer has been the General Manager for the System i product line for the last two and a half years. Recently, IBM divided the organization into two new business units, combining the product line with other offerings. Shearer's new role is as Vice President and Business Line Executive, IBM POWER Systems.
VP and Business Line Executive, IBM POWER Systems
MC Press: Our readers need to come up to speed about the news of what's happening in the recently announced division of the System i product line, from IBM's perspective. Can you give us an overview of how these organizational changes are perceived by IBM and what IBM's intentions are for the System i? Does this organizational change represent, as some analysts have expressed, a marginalization of the architecture? Or is this really a new opportunity to advance the needs of the customer base?
The System i Ecosystem
To start off, the System i product line, the System i community, and the System i eco-system are all very special and distinctive in the industry. And I think one of the characteristics that has made this brand so valuable to our clients is the fact that for nearly three decades clients have been able to focus on their business and write applications, applications that could be brought forward when new technologies and improvements in software and virtualization were made available. In addition, the System i brand has had a history of constant innovation and change, which I think in our industry has been a really healthy thing.
For instance, back in the days of the System 36 and System 38, the AS/400 came along, and clients that had invested in 36 and 38 applications were able to move forward with their old applications while the AS/400 added new capabilities. In a similar manner, the iSeries and System i came along and offered increased flexibility for virtualization, multiple operating systems, and the integration of Intel systems. And those newer System i products further broadened the value proposition, allowing clients to take advantage of the newer, state-of-the-art technologies of that time.
I believe that the next chapter of the System i brand offers some really exciting promises for our clients. And once again, i5/OS is going to move forward to IBM hardware platforms that are extremely robust and popular. In addition, as a result of this change within IBM, I believe i5/OS will be more pervasively included in our mainstream IBM products.
The Next Chapter for the System i
Let me expand on this. As you know, I have been working in this business now for two and half years, and I have spent most of my time with clients in the 30 or so countries that I've visited, or with the user group meetings, or with the Rochester Briefing Center. And from this experience, I observed very quickly that there were two distinct communities of System i users.
Distinct System i Customer Segments Lead to Separate Requirements
Shearer: First, there was the group of users that were using the System i in traditional ways, with application packages such as J.D. Edwards or other productive software packages. These customers continue to want very small IT staffs. They appreciate and continue to want quality packaged applications—almost turnkey systems. Moreover, they really like the classic simplicity and integration value propositions that come with the System i.
Then there are other clients, clients that may have started out as traditional System i users but have grown into robust mainframe-class systems customers. These are the 595 clients and the 570 clients.
These clients today, as they have grown, have really a completely different set of requirements that they are asking us to address. These clients are asking us for extreme high availability, extreme virtualization, and robust integration of multiple operating systems environments. They have very technical requirements and are really pushing the limits of hardware and software technology. As a matter of fact, some of these larger clients—when you get together with them at the large user group meetings—get upset when you show them an advertisement for a Model 520 integrated application system because they feel they are so different. Some actually resent the association with the small and medium-sized clients.
Moreover, what's interesting and unique about these larger clients is that these are the same companies that are using the big 595s along with their use of the big zSeries mainframes and the big pSeries Unix systems. They have extraordinarily complex environments, and consequently, they bring forward a significantly different set of needs beyond what traditional System i customers might have.
Idiosyncrasies in Sales Representation
Shearer: And then there is another idiosyncrasy when you step back and look objectively at our client base: It's something that drives some of our clients nuts in the small and medium business markets.
Our sales approach traditionally has been to have representatives for each of our product lines. Most small and medium clients use multiple operating environments. Unfortunately this has, in the past, led to conflict and confusion. Sometimes a small business can have an IBM Unix rep show up, a Windows rep show up, a mainframe rep show up, and an external storage rep show up at their doors. And sometimes these same clients may even witness these IBM reps compete against one another for the business.
What these clients have been telling us they want from IBM is a single IBMer to represent the full IBM portfolio of solutions, not just one piece of what IBM can do.
The Customer-Focused Strategy
Shearer: This has led us to create an overarching theme within all the announcements that we have made, beyond the adjustments in our sales approach and our Business Partner approach and beyond the more-visible Power Systems and Business Systems announcements. That theme is about IBM's evolution from being a product and technology-driven organization to a new orientation around the customer and the customer's needs.
For instance, if you look at the typical System i client, their Systems i infrastructure runs beautifully and efficiently. However, they're spending a fortune managing the Intel systems surrounding the System i. That's their underlying infrastructural problem. And we believe there is opportunity for IBM to do a better job managing the entire IT infrastructure, just as we now successfully manage one core component of it.
So if you look closely at the meanings of our announcements, every part of them are really inspired by our desire to do a better job, becoming increasingly client-oriented and transforming our role away from being a purely technology-oriented organization.
How the Announcements Fit
The first is that we have created the Power Systems business unit. In simple terms, the high-end side of the System i portfolio—the 570, the 595 models, along with our UNIX-based System p—are combined in that business unit. And the overall product line management for all of IBM's POWER systems—including the low-end i—are being managed by the Power Systems business unit. That was the first part of the announcement.
The second part was the creation of the Business Systems unit. This team really is specifically created to focus on the SMB market and how we can simplify and integrate systems. We started first with the System i install base that uses the smaller and medium-sized System i models because that is our largest SMB systems franchise. But the kind of things they are going to be focused on going forward will be aimed at driving innovation in the total IT environment, including System i for the SMB market. And that is really the beginning of a new focus on SMB in our systems business: moving IBM back to the core value propositions of simplicity and integration.
Now the third piece complements; that is a new approach to our sales coverage model for small and medium businesses. We are empowering systems sellers for the SMB market to cover specific clients to sell the entire IBM portfolio. This is because our clients in this segment have been asking us to be more consultative, more proactive in solving their business problems with any combination of IBM systems. And this makes perfect sense. It's one of the most significant parts of the announcements, though not many people have focused upon it yet. It's about presenting a more unified IBM point of view in front of the clients we serve.
Then finally, we are integrating our Business Partner sales organization into our Systems Business unit. This is to simplify and streamline our Business Partner program, recognizing that partners play such a critical role in covering the SMB market. As a consequence, I believe our Business Partners will benefit through a more tightly integrated sales approach and, ultimately, a more simplified set of partner programs.
All of these announcements I think will focus on increased simplicity and integration for the SMB market: It will move our organization ultimately beyond any one technology by bringing them all together for the benefit of our clients.
At a 50,000 foot level, that is the big picture of what we have announced.
New Roles Within the System i
MC Press: For the last two years, you have been the System i's most visible advocate in your role as General Manager. How is this role now changed in relation to the Sytem i? Will you still be present to help with the message and martial the resources needed for this transition?
Shearer: I'm going to be responsible for the entire POWER processor-based product line. So that is what your readers will recognize as the classic System i, the classic System p, POWER blades, AIX, i5/OS, Linux on POWER—all of our operating environments and hardware products that leverage IBM's POWER processor. I'll be exclusively focused on the current and future product line. I won't have the marketing and sales responsibilities. I will have the product line management and product strategy teams. We'll be defining the future i5/OS, AIX, and Linux-based products.
MC Press: Will that be identifying the technological strategies to advance the products?
Shearer: Absolutely! And that means bringing i5/OS forward to our hottest products. Moreover, I believe as we bring to market some of the new products, our clients will begin to see the value of what we are attempting to do.
The Once and Future System i
Shearer: For example, you know last week we introduced our first POWER 6 System i: the Model 570. But we also previewed Version 6 of the operating system that will be available during the first half of next year as well.
Both are very visible signs that System i is absolutely moving forward to our mutual processor families, and i5/OS is moving forward with an entirely new version next year.
Later this year, in the fourth quarter, another POWER 6 product will be available. This is a POWER6 bladed product that will be part of our Blade Center family, and for the first time in our Blade Center history, i5/OS will be included. This is an entirely new way in which our System i clients can use i5/OS. I'm really excited about this advancement because many of our clients currently spend three times as much money on x86 as they do on System i, and the idea of simplifying the x86 environment with i5/OS is a real home run for our small and medium-sized client.
Given the plans and announcements we have made, I'm confident that our System i clients' confidence in the future roadmap—as they see an increasingly visible i5/OS presence—will increase proportionately as well.
New Responsibilities with Sustaining Relationships
MC Press: Will your role include responsibilities for identifying and fostering relationships with ISVs who want to port to i5/OS, in a similar fashion that your responsibilities as GM of the System i helped to foster relationships with Zend's PHP organization, MySQL, and 3Com?
Shearer: I'm also going to be working with both the Power and Business Systems teams that will be doing the marketing and the business development for the large end of the market, as well as the small and medium business end of the market. So I'll be involved with both the SMB market and the related ISVs and the business development as well as the high end part of the market. There tends to be different partners in each market segment, but I'll have a foot in each segment.
But just as important, I'm going to be heavily engaged in the i5/OS community going forward.
Our clients are going to see me at the large user group meetings, and they're going to see me at COMMON, and I'm gong to be highly visible to them. This is because I'm going to be the senior IBM executive that is responsible for driving i5/OS and System i products forward.
Editor's Note: There was much more to this interview and IBM's announcements and plans, and we'll be revealing these plans in the weeks and months ahead in MC Systems Insight. Our thanks to Mark Shearer for making his time available and for providing us with his insights into the current and future IBM ecosystem.
Thomas M. Stockwell is Editor in Chief of MC Press Online.