Up Front With: IBM eServers Keeping Pace With IT in the Decade Ahead

Albert's Analysis looks at IBM eServers.

Spawned by the Internet, and driven by rapid advancements in IT, a computer revolution is truly unfolding before us. With it comes a chronic demand for more skilled IT workers and resources. At the same time, a greater need exists for open standard, "intelligent" e-infrastructures, where centralized computing power can migrate easily into distributed high-speed networks.

Without such infrastructure tools firmly in place, businesses have been - by necessity, perhaps - putting unprecedented demands on existing servers, as they seek 24x7 access, universal standards, interoperability and scalability.

IBM responded by launching the eServer line in October, which I previously wrote about in general terms. But, today, I'm looking at some of the industry trends supporting the need for more adaptable infrastructure tools. Following are a few of IBM's recent research findings, relative to the growth of e-business:

• Over the next five years, more than a billion people will access the Internet using a host of devices that include PCs, cell phones, Internet kiosks and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs).

• The emerging wireless Web - including use of mobile phones and cell phones - is adding increased stress to the current infrastructure. One study predicts that 90 percent of cell phones will be Web-enabled by the year 2003; GartnerGroup projects that one billion wireless subscribers will be on the scene by 2005.

• If you're an e-business, your data storage needs are increasing by an estimated 200 percent each quarter!

• A rapid rise in data-intensive, integrated transactions - driven by the use of business applications in more key areas - could threaten to overwhelm existing networks.

• Beefing up existing IT staffs won't provide an easy answer, as analysts forecast a deepening shortage of qualified technology workers in the years ahead. Meta Group predicts that only half of the needed 1.6 million tech workers will be available to employers.

• IBM estimates that customers' needs for a new e-infrastructure will represent a $600 billion opportunity over the next three years, one that will incorporate hardware, software, services and components.

One of the challenges, as I see it, is that there is no single approach - complete with popular consensus - to all e-business needs. Applications of e-business are as varied as the businesses that employ them. At a customer event held in New York City this past October, Bill Zeitler, Senior Vice President and Group Executive for IBM's Server Group, said, "No single platform, no single architecture, no one product, can accommodate e-business in its entirety. Such an e-server has to work in the real world - a world populated by different types of buyers, each of whom has different needs."

So, what's the answer? IBM cited such diversified needs as its rationale for launching that new IBM eServer line this past fall, which includes the xSeries, pSeries, zSeries and iSeries products. This new product line, in effect, brings the functionality of Netfinity Servers, RS/6000, S/390 and AS/400 high-end and midrange "mainframes" across the "virtual line." Each eServer product will eventually support Linux as an application interface standard for the industry.

The new product announcement also heralded a turning point, of sorts, for IBM, which aggressively is pursuing - and is rapidly gaining - e-business market share (with the help of a multi-million dollar campaign this coming year to build brand awareness).

IBM also has earmarked millions of dollars over the next five years to develop more solutions-based technology for this broad-reaching e-infrastructure of the future. WebSphere technology remains the technology centerpiece. (Makes sense, as some 9,000 business partners already support WebSphere.) In addition, IBM is spending in the billions to build "custom logic" microprocessors that can Web-enable a host of devices, including wireless.

The market for eServer technology - and the hardware that makes up the backbone of the Internet - has grown fiercely competitive in recent years. IBM shares prime market space with rivals, such as Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq.

Certainly, however, it appears that a big player like IBM has an advantage of 30 years of experience in the middleware (Internet infrastructure software) space. IBM's middleware has been helping companies integrate sophisticated b-to-b transactions, supply chain systems, and a myriad of other transactions. Along with that boost, Big Blue, also, has gained ground by consolidating its server sales force during this latest eServer announcement.

Nevertheless, a big challenge lies ahead - to embrace the new technologies of the open movement, while protecting customers' existing applications and technology investments. Meeting that challenge requires an innate understanding of the future of e-business. IBM, you have the technical clout, R&D expertise and market presence to get the job done. But, the competition will not be standing still. Let the evolving e-business battle begin, and let the e-business customer win!

Sam Albert is President of Sam Albert Associates (Scarsdale, N.Y.), a consulting firm specializing in building strategic corporate relationships. Contact him at samalbert@samalbert.com.