IBM Expands Its PureSystems Pitch

If IT's too costly, that's because it's too labor-intensive. IBM positions PureSystems as a focused effort to cut -- if not slash -- these labor costs.

If you think IBM Corp.'s PureSystems push is a reactive move to the posturing of its competitors, Big Blue thinks you should think again.

At the recent IBM Impact 2012 conference in Las Vegas, senior vice president and group executive Steve Mills fielded a question about this very issue. He was unequivocal: PureSystems isn't a response to rivals Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP), or Oracle Corp.

IBM, Mills said, had been working on PureSystems "for about four years." That means prior to Cisco's announcement of UCS in January of 2009; prior to Oracle's and HP's collaboration on the first version of Exadata (nee, the Oracle Database Machine, which debuted in September of 2008); and earlier than Oracle's acquisition of Sun (announced in April of 2009).

"Everything that we have that we have [as] part of the PureSystems environment predated those activities from [those] other companies," said Mills, during a press conference. "We were looking at the customer pain points ... and recognizing that we were at a break[ing] point in terms of customer budgets." That breaking point, according to Mills, is the unavoidable -- the irreducible -- cost of conventional computing. By conventional computing, Mills means a status quo that includes even highly virtualized compute assets and increasing levels of automation.

If it ante-dates PureSystems, it's still too costly, he says, and if it's too costly, that means it's too labor-intensive. "We see ... some 70 cents on the dollar associated with non-asset-related spending. Meaning, labor, labor, labor, and more labor," he explained. "As computers have gotten less expensive, we haven't necessarily been able to truly eat into the labor challenges associated with standing up systems and managing systems, and the PureSystems initiative is all about really getting at that 70 percent."

Mills and IBM presumably mean to exclude the mainframe -- the TCO bona-fides of which they've been trumpeting for nearly a decade now -- from this calculus. When it unveiled PureSystems in early April, after all, IBM didn't announce a Big Iron component. What's more, a key piece of the PureSystems pitch is its unified, one-stop management experience, in this case via the Flex console. Big Blue offers a similar capability in mainframes via its zSystems BladeCenter Extender (zBX) and Unified Resource Manager (URM). PureSystems and the zBX/URM-enabled mainframe could be considered two sides of the same coin: both aim to support a highly resilient, highly flexible, highly automated, and highly manageable hybrid computing experience. PureSystems is the open systems counterweight to zBX/URM.

As IBM's efforts with zBX/URM in mainframes help to demonstrate, chipping away at that irreducible 70 percent isn't simply a matter of packaging hardware, software, and services into new and interesting combinations. In fact, Mills maintained, "we'd been doing that for decades."

PureSystems, he argued, proposes to change how IT is acquired, implemented, and managed. "What we did ... need to [address] ... was the ability to make the system easy to set up [as well as] easy to deploy and manage and change," he said.

In this respect, Mills maintained, PureSystems "touches on a whole set of things that frankly no vendor in the industry is actually focused on doing." One aspect of that is a unified hybrid computing management experience. (Although -- at this point -- PureSystems is effectively siloed, integrated-manageability-wise, from zEnterprise and vice-versa.)

Another aspect is what IBM calls "patterns of expertise," a new component of PureSystems that aims to enable customers to capture and instantiate existing best practices. The goal, said Marie Wieck, general manager of application and integration middleware with IBM, is to permit customers to quickly deploy new compute resources to support existing business processes.

"In order to extend that notion, what we have done is ... made new resources available for our customers and our partners directly," Wieck explained. "We have a new development kit specifically to enable customers directly to package ... their own applications and capture them as patterns for deployment on PureSystems, and we have a trial cloud capability that allows you to essentially get in a sandbox on our SmartCloud." Wieck cited open SugarCRM, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) customer relationship management specialist, as an exemplar of this approach.

"They already provide their application services on our IBM SmartCloud, but they ... now also have created a pattern [of expertise] for PureApplication Systems, so that they can deploy [their nominally SaaS technology] in an on-premise[s] mode as well, with the same kind of attributes that they want out of the services because of the[se] Patterns of Expertise."

Rob Thomas, senior vice president of research and development for IBM partner Manhattan Associates, says his firm understands PureSystems as a way to accelerate -- perhaps significantly -- the acquisition and implementation of technology. He used the example of a Manhattan Associates client (identified only as "a national food distributor) that upgraded its existing infrastructure. This was no small task, said Thomas. This particular customer maintained 150 regional data centers and managed an average of 7,000 truckloads per week.

"That type of system requires some pretty complex technology, from an applications perspective, but also from a system perspective. You're looking at Web servers, load balancing, application servers, integration servers, security servers, database servers, and of course all of that has to be highly available," he explained. "[W]ith a system that size, it took about 30 man days just to get the base system configured, ... [and] we believe that using the IBM PureSystems technology, we will be able to accomplish the same thing probably in a matter of hours."

Thomas was speaking specifically about the problem of deploying capacity -- not of testing and implementing it to support new or existing business processes.

Wieck said PureSystems aims to accelerate time-to-implementation for solutions -- i.e., for IT and service resources that support production business processes. "We're so confident in the value and the economic benefits ... that we want customers to try it out," she said. "Take a box, have a system, and really try to determine how to onboard their own applications. See the benefits, use them in their own environment, and we think that will speak for itself in terms of the value and then [customers can] decide how they can deploy it in their own environment[s]."

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