IBM and the Value of Succession Planning

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  April 8, 2020

It’s easy to define successful business leaders by one or two characteristics—resolution, imagination, compassion—and by the successes or failures for which they are best remembered. However, it’s also futile to consider these points without keeping broader context in mind. After all, companies and their leaderships don’t operate in a vacuum. Like individuals and families, they are swayed and buffeted by events and chance.

But just as important as acting and reacting to present circumstances is the ability to sufficiently plan for upcoming challenges. Clearly, no one can see the future but as Mark Twain once noted, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes.” So, understanding the past while evaluating current events and emerging trends can help to prepare organizations for what’s ahead, including choosing the executives and managers best suited to those tasks. These points are worth considering this week as Arvind Krishna succeeds Virginia “Ginni” Rometty as CEO of IBM. Continue reading

Lenovo Empowers Edge Computing Now, and in the Future

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  April 1, 2020

Edge of network computing has been a topic of growing interest, mainly due to the emergence of promising Internet of Things (IoT) solutions and next gen 5G mobile technologies. But it would be a mistake to consider computing at the edge to be entirely new or only about IoT. For decades, enterprises of all kinds have deployed and often struggled to support computing processes at the far edges of their networks in locations, including retail outlets, manufacturing facilities, healthcare clinics and remote and branch offices (ROBOs).

Why have they struggled? Solutions for edge of network computing varied widely in quality and performance, required complex integration to be compatible with primary data centers and were difficult to manage and maintain. In addition, moving substantial quantities of data across networks for further analysis in primary data centers was costly and time consuming. That negatively impacted solutions’ total cost of ownership (TCO) and the business value organizations hoped to gain from their investments.

Thankfully, the appearance of new solutions, including hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) and integrated public cloud solutions have improved the situation considerably. Lenovo’s new and updated edge-to-cloud ThinkAgile HCI and ThinkSystem storage solutions which optimally leverage Microsoft Azure’s cloud services are good examples of how vendors are helping their customers gain the full advantage of enterprise edge computing. Continue reading

The Tech Industry’s Roles in the COVID-19 Pandemic

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  April 1, 2020

It doesn’t take long for the world to be turned upside down. Three months ago, despite dire reports of a new coronavirus and growing epidemic in China’s city of Wuhan, work and leisure elsewhere was preceding pretty much as normal, especially in the tech industry. The annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) attracted over 175k attendees to Las Vegas, including more than 61k from overseas. Despite some warnings from vendors with significant investments in Wuhan, planning continued apace for a host of Spring IT customer and partner events. Calendar dates were locked down, and flights and hotels were booked.

Then things began to go sideways. In mid-January, the first case of COVID-19 occurred outside of China, and a few days later the country’s National Health Commission confirmed that human-to-human transmission was occurring. By the end of the month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the outbreak was a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. Less than six weeks later, on 11 March, the WHO declared the outbreak to be a pandemic with the bulk of new cases occurring in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.

Like other businesses, the actions of IT vendors regarding the coronavirus have not been uniform. However, many in the tech industry are taking active leadership roles in responding to and, with luck and hard work, quelling COVID-19. Let’s consider what some vendors are doing and how they may impact the pandemic. Continue reading

Tech in the Time of COVID-19: What IT Vendors are Doing to Protect Communities, Customers and Partners

By Charles King, Pund-IT®

While events of the past month have been surreal by nearly any measure, the appearance of the novel coronavirus and resulting COVID-19 pandemic are not unprecedented. By historical standards, the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic wasn’t all that long ago and resulted from the same H1N1 virus that sparked the 2009 swine flu pandemic.

Not surprisingly, these and other pandemics are being used to provide “lessons learned” for people suffering the continuing events of COVID-19. But I believe other efforts, including projects supported by technology vendors are worth highlighting and provide insights into what people and organizations can do to reduce human suffering and bring COVID-19 to a swifter conclusion.

Let’s consider some of those efforts this week. Continue reading

Lenovo’s LOC-A: Easing the Headaches of Edge Computing

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  March 4, 2020

Whenever something new in the tech industry comes along, the public focus tends to be on the results, not what it takes to deliver them. That’s hardly a surprise since it’s easier to extol the rosy pleasures of the Promised Land than to detail the sometimes-arduous path required to get there. But the IT vendors responsible for delivering those goods and services don’t have that luxury. Despite the migraine-worthy costs and complexities involved in building novel technologies, they’ll be simplistically judged according to whether or how well that shiny new thing works.

That’s certainly the case with emerging 5G solutions. The potential of these offerings is jaw-dropping with massive upticks in bandwidth and devices supporting data-intensive services and processes, including those at the far edges of networks. Those range from UHD content distribution to sophisticated video conferencing to augmented reality to Internet of Things (IoT) devices and applications. But how will Communications Service Providers (CoSPs) realistically support those offerings?

The folks in Lenovo’s Data Center Group (DCG) have given these challenges considerable thought as evidenced by the company’s new Open Cloud Automation (LOC-A) solution for CoSPs. Let’s take a look at the problems involved and how Lenovo aims to solve them. Continue reading

Pund-IT Spotlight Interview: Stephen Leonard, GM of IBM’s Cognitive Systems

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  February 26, 2020

There is no single path that business executives travel. The best managers have significant talent that is then honed to a fine edge by training, experience and a willingness to take up new challenges. Employers contribute hugely to the process, of course, and it is difficult to think of a company that does a better job of recognizing, training and advancing new leaders than IBM.

I recently had a chance to interview Stephen Leonard, General Manager of IBM’s Cognitive Systems where he is responsible for the development, sales and marketing of the company’s Power Systems solutions, as well as offerings for cloud computing platforms and data centers. Our discussion covered a wide range of issues and events that have colored Leonard’s 30+ years with IBM. Continue reading

Dell Technologies and Hark Systems – Highlighting the Value of Strategic Partnerships

By Charles King, Pund-IT®

OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturing) is one of the most commonly used acronyms in the tech industry and can be found applied across a huge range of business and consumer solutions. Why is that the case? Software vendors depend on hardware vendors to develop products that support their operating environments, applications and tools. Hardware vendors often utilize large scale manufacturers to build end products. Product builders, in turn, leverage the commodity parts and components produced by thousands of manufacturers large and small.

In other words, the vast majority of OEM and other solutions created by the tech industry are dependent on strategic relationships that make the most out of each partner’s particular skills and expertise. But since these relationships seldomly occur spontaneously, how do companies recognize their potential value to one another and get together in the first place? An interesting example of this is the strategic partnership between Dell Technologies OEM|Embedded and Edge Solutions group and Hark Systems, a U.K.-based energy management solutions provider. Let’s take a look at what the pair are achieving together.

Hark Systems – IoT solutions for real world problems

So, what is Hark Systems and what does it do? Founded in 2016, Hark focuses on a variety of energy management solutions designed to monitor and extract insights from energy-related data in commercial and industrial environments, including retail, life sciences, smart buildings, smart cities and manufacturing. That includes affordably linking analog and proprietary legacy systems with new digital platforms, thus enabling customers to avoid costly rip-and-replace investments.

The Hark Platform is a cloud-based service and software solution deployed at the edge to provide real-time insights into business operations and to control assets such as lighting, HVAC and energy storage. The company has enjoyed notable successes, including:

  • Deployments with a top-four U.K. retailer to provide visibility into and reduce the costs of energy consumption in stores and offices.
  • A micro grid solution that monitors the energy draw and operation of a Tesla battery deployed in the 70,000 sq. ft. Bright Building in Manchester, U.K. The Hark Platform controls the battery’s charge, discharge and other functions, enabling the Bright Building’s owners to manage their use of conventional energy sources and reduce costs.

The road to Dell Technologies

Great stuff but how did Hark come to engage with Dell? The company’s CEO, Jordan Appleson, has said: “I assumed back in 2016 that designing and shipping hardware was good for us. That assumption was dumb.” How did he come to that conclusion? Following an unsuccessful hardware development effort requiring considerable time, effort and investment. Appleson’s candor is refreshing but it also reflects his and his company’s ability to learn and progress from their mistakes.

In a blog by Mike Fay, a business development manager in Dell Technologies OEM|Embedded and Edge Solutions group, Appleson is quoted as saying, “We built hardware because we needed to. Designing hardware has made us even better at designing cloud software that talks to hardware. However, we quickly realized that we needed a partner like Dell Technologies to scale-up … to take the complexity away, reduce lead times, manage the certification process and allow us to focus on our own IP. We needed a partner like Dell for supply chain and logistics.”

What was it about Dell that impressed Hark and led to the partnership? Appleson noted the versatility, quality and durability of Dell Technologies solutions, including its Edge Gateways for IoT. The lack of moving parts, including cooling fans, means that systems are quieter and less likely to fail than other vendors’ products. Plus, by leveraging broader investments in developing ruggedized notebooks and other products, Dell’s Edge Solutions portfolio is IP rated for dust protection and moisture intrusion.

Finally, Hark appreciated the value of Dell Technologies’ 3-year warranty and the ability to leverage the company’s global support network for its own and its customers’ benefit. By working with Dell Technologies, Hark Systems has been able to scale-up and meet the requirements of demanding enterprises.

A dynamic partnership

Since every successful strategic relationship depends on providing value for all the involved partners, what does Dell get out of the deal? The fact is that Hark Systems provides real insights that enhance the value of Dell Technologies’ embedded|edge strategies. While the company has a notable portfolio of end-to-end IT infrastructure solutions, Dell Technologies depends on partners to provide expertise for and insights into industrial use cases and specialized markets.

Relationships with disruptive companies, like Hark Systems obviously create discrete new commercial opportunities for Dell Technologies. But these strategic partnerships also help the company better understand the changes powering evolutionary shifts in wider markets. As a result, Dell Technologies can more effectively develop products that can be applied to new applications and use cases and position itself to gain advantage from these developments.

Final analysis

Like other disruptive vendors, Hark Systems is succeeding by encouraging companies to rethink how they do business and refine the way they manage processes, including facilities operations. By powering edge-to-cloud insights into energy consumption, Hark is helping its customers better understand and more efficiently leverage conventional and emerging energy resources.

The considerable benefits of disruptive technologies can also extend to OEMs and other strategic partners. That is, working with Hark Systems does more than simply open new commercial opportunities for Dell Technologies’ OEM|/Embedded and Edge Solutions group. It also enables Dell Technologies to be more effectively disruptive to its own and its customers’ benefit.

© 2020 Pund-IT®. All rights reserved.

IBM Storage: Making Simple Easy

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  February 12, 2020

“Easy” or “simple” products have been mainstays in the tech industry since the launch of commercial personal computers (PCs) in the 1980s. However, while they share similarities, the two concepts are substantially different. The former emphasizes reducing customers’ anxieties and concerns about unfamiliar products, usually by masking technological complexity with user-friendly software and tools. The graphical user interface (GUI) that Apple introduced with its Macintosh PCs in 1984 is a prime example of this approach.

In contrast, the latter term suggests that a conscious effort has been made to improve the performance and quality of complex products, often by reducing or entirely removing redundant steps with innovative technologies, software and tools. As a result, customers (often businesses) enjoy better productivity and returns on their IT investments.

I’m raising these points to explore the new solutions that IBM introduced this week in its “radically simplified” FlashSystem storage solutions. Let’s take a look at what the company is delivering and what enterprise customers stand to gain.

Origins of storage complexity

Why do data storage solutions tend to be complex? Three issues come to mind; 1) storage evolution, 2) customers’ needs and habits, and 3) vendor strategies.

Concerning the first point, it’s hard to think of a technology that evolves as quickly or fundamentally as data storage. On the hardware side, storage media has rapidly shifted as various mechanical tape, floppy disks, hard disks, optical disks and, most recently, SSD/flash came to the fore and then, in many cases, faded away. Storage software followed a similar path, enabling customers to support sophisticated tasks and processes. They also enjoyed steady, massive improvements in storage capacity and performance that dwarfed what semiconductor and microprocessor vendors were achieving.

But that constant evolution sometimes leaves customers holding the bag, watching the value of their investments wither or blow away due to the flagging performance, redundancy, decline and failure of aging products. Those companies didn’t help themselves by attempting to lower their risk by mistaking cost for value, buying whatever products were cheapest from whichever vendors were offering the best deals that week. As a result, many if not most business data centers support multiple vendors’ storage solutions.

Finally, vendors themselves deserve a mention. Since customers’ storage needs vary widely, vendors have typically responded with unique solutions designed to support particular requirements, including pricing, performance data services and scalability, as well as specific applications and use cases. But uniqueness tends to increase complexity due to different management and troubleshooting platforms, APIs, automation tools and methodologies for hybrid cloud migration and support. Add that to the hodgepodge of systems businesses own and the headaches of storage staff and management take a quantum leap.

IBM’s new FlashSystem family members

It is likely that organizations would welcome better, simpler ways of addressing their data storage requirements. Is any vendor delivering the goods they need? IBM’s new family of FlashSystem solutions incorporates features and functionalities designed to address and remedy longstanding storage complexities. Let’s consider these in turn.

On the hardware side, IBM introduced a trio of new solutions:

  1. The FlashSystem 7200 is designed for mid-range enterprises and can be used in both scale-up and scale-out deployments. The end-to-end NVMe, 7200 supports 43% higher performance (9.2M IOPs max) and 55% better throughput (128GB/s) than IBM’s Storwize V7000 Gen. The cost is also lower than previous generation Storwize 7000 systems.
  2. The FlashSystem 9200 is designed for the most demanding enterprise applications and use cases. An end-to-end NVMe solution, the 9200 delivers comprehensive storage functionality with 20% better performance (18M IOPs and 180GB/s per 4-way cluster) at a lower price than the prior generation FlashSystem 9100.
  3. The FlashSystem 9200R offers the 9200’s same features and benefits to customers that require systems which are built, tested, delivered assembled, installed and configured by IBM. The 9200R includes 2-4 9200 control enclosures, Brocade or Cisco clustering interconnects and optional enclosures for expanded capacity.

The larger FlashSystem family also includes the entry level FlashSystem 5010, 5030 and 5100. Excepting the 9200 and 9200R, IBM FlashSystem solutions are available in all-flash and hybrid flash configurations.

Along with the new systems, IBM introduced a new FlashCore Module with 38.4TB of usable capacity so customers can deploy a remarkable 4PB of data in just two rack units (2U) of space with data reduction. As was the case with prior generation solutions, the new FlashCore Modules support both data compression and FIPS 140-2 data-at-rest encryption with no impact on performance. The new modules are also available as upgrades for IBM’s FlashSystem 9100 and Storwize V5100 and V7000 Gen3 solutions.

Along with the new FlashSystem solutions, IBM is introducing storage class memory (SCM) drives from Intel and Samsung to support ultra-low latency for performance-sensitive but less cache-friendly workloads, like operational applications and databases, virtualization and hybrid cloud implementations. The new SCM modules are also available as upgrades for IBM’s FlashSystem 9100 and Storwize V5100 and V7000 Gen3 solutions.

The software path to radical simplification

Substantially improved performance at lower cost than prior gen solutions is a great selling point, but where’s the “radical simplification” IBM is promising to deliver? Much of that value can be found in the applications and tools supporting the FlashSystem family.

Leading off that group is IBM Spectrum Virtualize, the company’s award-winning data services platform. Along with supporting both on-premises and hybrid cloud storage deployments, Spectrum Virtualize plays a central role in all IBM FlashSystem products. Just as important is the work that IBM has put into making the platform compatible with storage systems and arrays from other vendors.

At this point, Spectrum Virtualize can be used to integrate storage from over 500 IBM and non-IBM storage systems, a critical point for customers that hope to simplify and unify storage and data management. In addition, the company’s Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud can be used in hybrid cloud environments, enabling customers to leverage a common interface for both on- and off-premises data and systems.

Complementing Spectrum Virtualize are other company-developed tools and applications. For example, IBM Easy Tier is an AI-enabled solution that transparently moves data to the storage tier that best suits performance and budget requirements. IBM Storage Insights can be used to support common storage processes in IBM Cloud, like monitoring, reporting and AI-based alerts. Another version, Storage Insights Pro provides a single management pane for heterogeneous storage supported by Spectrum Virtualize for Public Cloud, including EMC Unity and Unity XT, NetApp FAS and AFF, and Hitachi VSP G-series.

Finally, IBM has developed consistent APIs to support automation in both on- and off-prem storage for all deployment approaches, including bare metal, virtualized, containerized and hybrid multi-cloud.

What is the bottom line here? By incorporating new technologies including its own next gen FlashCore Modules and SCM modules from Intel and Samsung, IBM has substantially rounded out the top end of its FlashSystem portfolio with solutions that combine exceptional performance and capacity. Added to the other members of the FlashSystem family, IBM enterprise customers now have access to a full range of all- and hybrid flash storage solutions capable of optimally supporting virtually any application, workload or business process.

Additionally, the company’s investments in storage software and management tools, such as Spectrum Virtualize, Storage Insights and Easy Tier make IBM worthy of investigation by organizations considering how best to consolidate and simplify the management of complex heterogeneous storage resources and tasks, whether they are located on premises or in public clouds.

Final analysis

Some years ago, IBM decided to press forward with a strategic vision and development efforts that served as the foundation of its FlashSystem family, Spectrum Virtualize, Storage Insights and other solutions. As a result, its customers enjoy the substantial benefits of IBM’s leading-edge enterprise-class flash offerings, as well as tools and methodologies for seamlessly managing data residing on other vendors’ storage systems.

In other words, just as it does in real life, successful simplification requires substantial work. IBM has put in the time, money and effort required to make enterprise storage simple. By doing so, the company has made life easier for its customers and their data center managers and staff. Simple and easy may be substantially different concepts, but in the hands of a forward-thinking vendor like IBM, one can lead to the other.

© 2020 Pund-IT®. All rights reserved.

IBM’s Leadership Succession Strategy: Rometty to Krishna and Whitehurst

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  February 5, 2020

Executive succession is a commonplace business process that reflects elemental truths: market dynamics change, organizations evolve, social, political and economic factors shift. So do people. Executives who possess terrific skills for one business era may not be well-suited for another. When that happens, boards of directors look for new leaders who do.

But new leadership is usually a fact of life rather than a problem signal. Most senior executives successfully complete the jobs they were hired to perform, then move on to the next phases of their lives and careers. Such orderly comings and goings also highlight how companies can think further ahead, recognize the inevitability of organizational and individual evolution and fully understand the value of leaders who are best suited for those circumstances and challenges.

IBM offered an excellent example of dynamic with the recent announcement of CEO Ginni Rometty’s retirement and of the elevation of SVP Arvind Krishna to the chief executive role and SVP and Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst to president of IBM.

Let’s consider this process and how IBM’s succession process reflects its current condition and future-focused strategies. Continue reading

ServiceNow Launches Industry-Specific Workflow Solutions and Strategic Partnerships

By Charles King, Pund-IT®  January 29, 2020

Efficiently performing and managing business processes is a common goal for millions of businesses worldwide but it often harbors significant challenges. That’s especially true with repetitive tasks, but it is particularly fraught for organizations adopting and implementing next generation or essentially new technologies.

Why so? Because what might qualify as an inconvenient slip or simple mistake in more conventional circumstances can trigger significant setbacks in strategic rollouts. Not surprisingly, such results can negatively impact a company’s performance and, more importantly, erode its reputation and customer relationships.

That’s why workflow automation solutions, such as ServiceNow’s have become increasingly important. The company has risen to prominence with a range of offerings that help customers increase the efficiency of common tasks and the success of business outcomes. Its recently announced solutions for banking and telecommunications, along with related strategic partnerships offer intriguing examples of how a vendor can effectively explore and expand into new opportunities.

Let’s consider how ServiceNow is driving this process. Continue reading