IBM’s IOD Showcases DB2, Informix, InfoSphere. Now, About Marketing….

It was hard to decide where to look first in Las Vegas this year at IBM’s flagship information management event. Coming as it did on the heels of a massive, sprawling Oracle Open World, it was also overwhelming, but distinguished itself immediately by its focus. Whereas Oracle has smashed together hardware systems, apps, middleware, java and development, systems management and database into a bewildering multi-site show, IBM continues to run separate events for Websphere, Rational, Tivoli, and Lotus. No single IBM event trumpets “we’re the biggest,” and they don’t take over the towns they’re in; the content seems a bit more manageable. And as an attendee who hopes to get a broad view, I’m happy with that. However, as I’ll discuss below, Oracle is winning the messaging war nonetheless.

There was indeed talk of systems at IoD this year, as Smart Analytics Systems got a refresh and some added units on x-based platforms. Flash memory additions to the x-based 5600, bundling InfoSphere and Cognos along with an updated Linux release, provide the basis for a good story along with more cores, memory and storage. A similar story is possible for the POWER-based 7700, which also added the new Blue Darter solid state disk (SSD.) And the z audience gets the 9600, with its sidecar, the transparent offload to the Smart Analytics Optimizer. Yes, IBM has a column-based database, with innovative storage tweaks and an optimizer that knows when to use it and when not to. Great promise there.

So what’s wrong with this picture? Try this: ask 10 IT people what Exadata is, and what Smart Analytics Systems are. Ask them who makes the offerings, and what they do. Go ahead…I’ll wait….

Back? OK. Here’s what I learned, after doing that experiment at 3 events attended by IT people (data people, in fact.) 8 of 10 I asked knew Oracle makes Exadata and it’s a wicked fast platform for data. 4 of 10 knew who makes the other one, and fewer knew why. On visibility and buzz, game Oracle.

There is much more to talk about, and visibility and buzz are not everything. IBM’s numbers continue to be good, and nobody in Armonk is complaining. But the IBM Software brand needs to get more attention, more investment, and a tighter, more focused story. The good news? Conversations I’ve been having suggest that it will in 2011, and it’s about time. Read more of this post

IBM Acquires Netezza – ADBMS Consolidation Heats Up

IBM’s bid to acquire Netezza makes it official; the insurgents are at the gates. A pioneering and leading ADBMS player, Netezza is in play for approximately $1.7 billion or 6 times revenues [edited 9/30; previously said “earnings,” which is incorrect.] When it entered the market in 2001, it catalyzed an economic and architectural shift with an appliance form factor at a dramatically different price point. Titans like Teradata and Oracle (and yes, IBM) found themselves outmaneuvered as Netezza mounted a steadily improving business, adding dozens of new names every quarter, continuing to validate its market positioning as a dedicated analytic appliance. It’s no longer alone there; some analytic appliance play is now in the portfolio of most sizable vendors serious about the market. Read more of this post

Microsoft Plays Where’s Waldo? With BI – Good Idea

In April, I was critical of the BI messaging I heard from Microsoft – as told, it was long on benefit adjectives and short on architectural clarity. But things have changed since then, and the Combined Tech Ed/Business Intelligence Conference made that very clear. Do I see more clarity because I now know more of the detail, and have internalized my own narrative? Likely. But it would be outrageously self-centered of me to think that was all. The fact is, the story is being told better, and there is much to tell. It needs to be told well because it’s complex behind the “simple” descriptions that underlie Microsoft’s ultimate value proposition: BI should be an easily consumed, context-aware service available to everyone, not a separate offering. Microsoft is tackling the continuing grand challenge of BI – expanding usage beyond the 20% of potential users that are BI consumers today. Read more of this post

IBM Gets Feisty — Mobilizes Analytics for Oracle Battle

In July 2009, IBM announced the Smart Analytics System 7600, a workload-optimized, pre-integrated bundle of hardware and software targeted at the business analytics market. Included in that package are an IBM POWER 550 running AIX, storage, plus InfoSphere Warehouse Enterprise Edition (which consists of DB2, Warehouse design and management tools + Cubing, Data Mining and Text Analytics services), and Cognos 8 Business Intelligence, configured and tuned, and “health check” features. Accommodations are made if the customer already has licensed some of the software and wants to use it on the platform; in this sense, the software is described as “optional.” This month, IBM broadened the story and upped the ante, making Smart Analytics System a key weapon in its widening battle with Oracle.

This post is a slightly updated version of a piece that appeared in the PUND-IT newsletter. Read more of this post

Netezza Still Tops ADBMS Insurgents

Netezza’s 2009 so far has demonstrated that its ADBMS leadership is firming up. Several vendors have navigated a difficult year in the general economic sphere and in their own market’s quest for visibility, and Netezza has pushed forward with some aggressive moves from atop the pack. Phil Francisco, Vice President of Product Management and Product Marketing, has just come off an event swing (with Curt Monash as a keynote speaker at most.) Phil reports that the decision to take the story to the customers, instead of relying on their vanishing travel budgets to come to a centralized event, paid off well, with over 1500 interactions.
Read more of this post

It’s On: IBM To Acquire SPSS

With one stroke, IBM has signalled that it believes itself ready to redraw the BI map. After a multi-year, multi-billion dollar spending spree, IBM has assembled the product portfolio, marketing and sales organization, and a 4000-person services army to launch a full-scale assault. It’s a lucrative opportunity: Mary Weier at InfoWeek quotes IDC to the effect that in 2008, the total BI market grew 10.6% to $7.8 billion. But although IBM’s acquisition of Cognos made it a formidable presence, with around 10% of the total market, until now it seems to largely have been in a holding pattern. IDC says IBM’s 2008 BI revenues were $800 million, up 5% since the previous year. But key competitors  SAP and SAS, who are ahead of IBM in share, and Oracle, nipping at its heels, grew at  double-digit rates. It is time to for IBM up that ante; as strong as Cognos was, it ought to have benefited more from IBM’s muscle. And now, it’s on. Read more of this post

IBM’s Smart Analytics System: More Than An Appliance?

When is an appliance not an appliance? When it’s more. On July 28, IBM’s Software Group and Systems and Technology Group (i.e., the hardware folks) hosted an analyst event to introduce the Smart Analytics System.The discussion began with a series of conversations about the value of “workload optimization,” or the effective tuning of processors, storage, memory and network components with software used for information management.  Not controversial, but hardly news. IBM claims to be raising the bar, though, with the promise of a system that is already tuned, and attuned to the needs of its purchaser, at a level far beyond appliances that other vendors have delivered: appliances, if you will, not only predesigned for specific use cases, but customized for specific instances of those use cases. It’s no accident that IBM never called the Smart Analytics System an “appliance.” Extending the Smart brand here is a powerful move, and IBM appears poised to make good on its promise. Read more of this post

IBM’s BAO Initiative Will Change the Landscape, But More Is Needed

IBM Global Business Services (GBS) has added its first new service line since IBM acquired PWC and launched itself into the services business. GBS generated nearly $20B in revenue in 2008, a few hundred million more than the hardware side of IBM. Two other units, the software group and IBM Research,  have joined with GBS to create the Business Analysis and Optimization line, intended to make IBM the dominant player in advanced analytics focused on optimizing business outcomes.  GBS has pursued the capture and reusable packaging of intellectual property and methodologies in its engagements for some time, encapsulating business processes and industry requirements, standards and regulations. IBM proposes to combine those assets with software components and advanced work done in IBM Research to deliver a “predict and prescribe” approach to its customers’ business challenges.

This is a formidable array of assets, aligned into a 4000-person organization, and pursuing a carefully targeted set of competencies:

  • BI and Performance Management
  • Advanced Analytics and Optimization
  • Enterprise Information Management
  • Enterprise Content Management
  • Business Analytics and Optimization (BAO) Strategy

All the contributors bring substantial skin to the game. Ambuj Goyal, who heads the information management portfolio for IBM Software Group (SWG), has assembled an array of data management and data warehousing tools, BI, content management, and other components, and told me, “We’re harnessing everything we’ve built.” He’s been hammering on the notion of an information agenda as part of IBM’s Information on Demand strategy, and driving awareness of the need for data quality and stewardship to attack the need for executives to feel they can trust the data they get. One in three today say they don’t, even for the relatively mundane types of reporting that are commonplace.

In IBM Research, Brenda Dietrich heads a team of 150 mathematics PhDs, many of whom have been working directly with customers to build predictive models in numerous industry contexts that will underpin some of the early projects. Three key plays are in the first round: risk and fraud analytics; analytics and data optimization; and advanced customer insight, which draws upon BAO head Fred Balboni’s recent successes driving GBS business in the retail sector.

The new organization model, in typical IBM fashion, will be rolled out on a massive scale. Of course, most of the people in the organization are being “re-badged;” they aren’t new, dedicated assets just yet, but they are experienced in many facets of the problems to be tackled and are in an accelerated program designed to bring them up to speed to meet an expected demand curve that IBM believes will be very steep. I would not bet against them.

Still, this new effort is only a step on a journey the information technology industry needs to travel. “Predict and prescribe” is necessary but not sufficient to achieving true analytics-based automation, where the “prescription” is applied to operations within policy- and rules-based guidelines, reserving the delivery of guidance to decision makers for the exceptional cases. Some advanced organizations have already built such applications, and they will have a leg up. If you are among them, IT Market Strategy would like to hear your story. Please contact us – leave a comment here, or email merv@itmarketstrategy.com.