Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/02/11/ibm_power7_smarter_planet/

IBM plants Power 7 on Smarter Planet pitch

Solution selling on steroids

By Dan Olds, Gabriel Consulting

Posted in HPC, 11th February 2010 13:24 GMT

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.

Solution selling on steroids

What we’re seeing with IBM, and this launch in particular, is the evolution of solution selling – call it solution selling on steroids. There will be much more business content in the pitches and more selling to line-of-business executives and executive management. We’re going to see much more emphasis on actual business results from the systems and, along with that, much higher levels of integration between IBM systems, IBM software, and services.

This doesn’t mean that it won’t still be talking the typical feeds/speeds/benchmarks to the data center; it will. But that style of selling effort will happen in concert with business-oriented solution pitches directed at the business-side crowd.

In my mind, this is a natural evolution, and is to be expected. There are several trends that contribute to this change in sales approach and strategy.

First, customers are more technically sophisticated, but at the same time have fewer people to handle integration chores. Technology has rapidly become the source of business differentiation, and a contributor to the execution of every business strategy.

By the same token, the tech industry has advanced to a place where most vendors have mastered the basics and can provide help on higher-level tasks, like advising customers on how to best use this stuff. (Even if a vendor hasn’t mastered the basics, don’t worry, they’ll still offer the advice.) What we’re talking about is counsel beyond the trite “Align IT with business goals” or “Use data to drive outcomes” drivel.

On the expense side, vendors are addressing IT operational issues; helping customers cut data center costs has become a key competitive focus for them. They’re also pushing harder to provide value to the business as a whole, by enabling and even suggesting new strategies and initiatives. While every major vendor has vertical market organizations and has had them for years, what we’re seeing today is that these organizations are getting more sophisticated in how they approach customers, and they are providing higher level value than in years past.

The focus on business-side solutions isn’t unique to IBM, although IBM has probably taken it the furthest. Oracle’s recent discussion of how it will use the purchase of Sun to drive integrated solutions is right up the same alley, as is HP’s increasing emphasis on what it's doing with its EDS unit.

Dell’s Perot Systems buy was also designed to allow it to offer a wider range of business-side benefits to customers. As competition ramps up in all areas of the tech business, expect to see more emphasis on business outcomes in the future.

Read The Reg's highly detailed discussion of the new Power7 chip and some historical context here. ®