STATESIDE: Mixed messaging from Big Blue

STATESIDE: Mixed messaging from Big Blue

IBM's On Demand vision for utility-style computing is a compelling idea. But at the same time, you could be forgiven for being confused about the details. As IBM rallies the entire company around grid computing, we're left trying to digest a set of mixed messages. On Demand is counter-cultural, challenging a whole set of metrics and assumptions upon which the IT industry is built. Technology delivered under this model requires zero tolerance for failure in order to be effective.

But software stability and reliability has long been problematic. As we do with our famed power utilities from which IBM draws the utility metaphor, we expect always-on service, but reality proves that outages are inevitable.

Another confusing message IBM has implied is the notion that we will increasingly require high-value consulting services to build grids. Ironically enough, IBM embodies this by virtue of the organisational split between its various technology divisions and IBM Global Services.

You get the impression that IBM Global Services is not supposed to be part of the current technology discussion, to avoid confusion about the grid-computing delivery model. IBM is likely to avoid overt talk about how Global Services can help enterprises migrate toward an On-Demand environment, mostly because the notion of requiring more IT consultants competes with the idea that autonomic systems will eliminate the need for additional IT staff.

Despite IBM's efforts, this issue reared its ugly head by virtue of some statistics presented at a business partner strategy meeting held for the press in New York on November 12. IBM executives revealed an interesting figure - interesting in a raised-eyebrow way, that is. Solutions partners rate the company a whopping minus-3 per cent for "easy to do business with".

Part of the solution to IBM's high partner dissatisfaction is a US$1 billion investment in its partner strategy. Under new CEO Sam Palmisano, IBM is embracing the open-standards ethos, and it needs all the friends it can get.

Executives noted that during former CEO Lou Gerstner's reign, IBM's message was to promote the one-stop shop (code for Global Services). Back then it could afford to alienate partners.

The future of grid computing hinges on critical developments in dynamic resource provisioning technology. At the same time, it's also worth asking how "easy" it will be to do business with IBM.

IBM reported its solutions partners make an average gross margin of 33 per cent. And for every dollar enterprises spend on software, these companies make $22 from associated services and integration charges.

As a result, we must understand the emergence of three distinct "services": Web services, software delivered as a service, and consulting services. The value proposition around the last one is undergoing a grid-inspired shift, but Global Services has yet to clarify its roadmap.

But if you put your ear to the ground and listen closely, you can still hear the steady march of IBM consultants.

Mark Jones, US InfoWorld's news editor and a former editor of ARN, can be reached at

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