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The chip story coming out of Monday’s Power7 unveiling from IBM is bigger than usual. Naturally it is doing plenty of the requisite feeds-and-speeds chest-beating, but there is a broader message directed at a wider audience.

IBM is closely tying the Power7 chip and systems launches to its Smarter Planet initiative, which is the company’s overarching theme du jour. Smarter Planet is its answer to the question “How can technology solve the world’s problems?”.

What it's talking about is using tech stuff to discover, solve or manage large-scale challenges ranging from medical care to optimizing the power grids to whatever else you have in mind. The take-away message is that problems are getting more problematic, and the key to solving them is the proper gathering, analysis, and use of data.

IBM has a Smarter Planet spin on everything from worldwide dilemmas to the problems faced by businesses every day. The business-oriented messages are primarily about dealing with the ever-increasing flood of data that is arising from better tracking of operational/market data.

One example it cites is an electric utility making the switch to smart meters that will report real-time power usage every 15 minutes. This will result in about a petabyte of additional data annually – data that will be used to optimize power distribution on the fly, adjust bills to reflect peak/off peak usage and, of course, to better understand usage patterns. This is going to require quite a bit more storage and more cycles to process, but you can’t really argue against the underlying business case.

That’s just one example, of course, and perhaps an obvious one, but it’s safe to say that almost every industry is going to have the opportunity to accumulate – or buy – more data than they ever dreamed of having even a few years ago. The real questions, I think, will center on how well (or poorly) they utilize this data and use it to give themselves a way to smite their competitors.

IBM wants to be the vendor that will lead customers into this Promised Land – with systems, with software, and with business-oriented services that will give specific advice geared toward each customer’s unique situation. IBM’s other big system launches planned for 2010 – a new generation of System x and a new mainframe – will also be wrapped around this higher-level theme.

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