IBM leads IT out of the data center

Big Blue looks to help users manage data, energy and more across diverse environments

IBM plans to help customers broaden IT's reach beyond the data center and into managing physical environments, cloud services and virtual resources with one set of tools that improves efficiencies, reduces costs and cuts back on manual labor.

IBM announced this week its new dynamic infrastructure initiative that ties Big Blue's on-demand, adaptive and autonomic efforts together with its vertical industry expertise --garnered over the years from its Global Services group.

IBM is looking to help customers manage IT service delivery and performance across physical, virtual, digital and environmental assets and is packaging its software and services at seven vertical industries. The company revealed the strategic direction and a variety of new and updated products at its Pulse 2009 conference, which drew about 3,000 attendees in Las Vegas.

To start, IBM updated a slew of service management products customized to address seven vertical industries, such as utilities, telecommunications, banking and retail. The IBM Service Management Industry Solutions service incorporates technology IBM acquired from MRO Software and Micromuse as well as offerings from the business and technology groups at IBM.

Big Blue wants to help customers connect its multiple assets and manage services across various elements including, for instance, power and cooling devices, to be able to better assess efficiencies and resiliencies of a company, rather than pockets of IT, business groups or facilities. According to Pete McCaffrey, director of Dynamic Infrastructure at IBM, the packages will help customers accelerate their service management rollouts.

Analysts say that IBM is banking on the fact that in the midst of recession CEOs might be looking at industry-specific offerings that span multiple business units.

"IBM is betting on enterprises consolidating their budgeting and purchasing," says Jasmine Noel, founder and principal analyst at Ptak, Noel and Associates. "This has been happening within IT for some time now as CIOs started initiatives to cut down the number of IT suppliers and the current economic difficulties will only accelerate this for CEOs and CFOs."

Others say IBM emphasized the need to stretch an IT service management strategy across a company's entire asset inventory and plans to lay out exactly how to converge IT and business processes with a new governance consulting practice and IBM Resiliency Consulting Services, for instance. By improving communications and processes across IT and business groups, says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research, IBM can help companies get more out of the infrastructure they have.

"There are literally and figuratively walls and a lack of connections between IT assets and business assets, but we are all moving rapidly toward a future in which it will be possible to connect those siloed assets," King says. "IBM is hitting on something with this approach and doing it in such a way that it could provide real value to customers."

IBM is not only hoping to bridge the gap between IT and business buyers with its software and services. Big Blue also is expanding its technology to take on physical elements that stretch beyond the data center such as power and cooling systems.

For instance, Big Blue unveiled IBM Tivoli Monitoring for Energy Management Software, which lets customers automate the reporting of energy consumption by non-IT assets, such as an office building air conditioning system, and generate reports and calculate "what, if" scenarios if the energy dynamics had to change.

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Analysts says IBM's plans outpace competitors in the management market because the company seems to understand that what happens in the domain of IT can be applied to facilities and other environments across an enterprise.

"Most of the management vendors remain stuck solely in the IT realm, which is OK for many companies because that is where the pain is most acute, but mature organizations realize the stuff they do in IT can be applied elsewhere and money savings can be achieved," says Glenn O'Donnell, a senior analyst with Forrester Research.

As for information management efficiency, the integrated ProtecTIER Deduplication Appliance works to reduce redundant data across an environment by incorporating server, storage and data deduplication software. The company also introduced the IBM XIV Storage System that is says will provide fast access to data stored in a variety of applications, from digital media, Web 2.0 and traditional sources.

Yet for all of IBM's strategy, some analysts say Big Blue will run into a few challenges selling its dynamic infrastructure to enterprise IT executives. For one, despite it being a potential best practice, many in IT still have no authority over other areas of the business, such as power management or facilities maintenance.

"IT people don't own the power or facilities budget," says Andi Mann, research director at Enterprise Management Associates. "IBM is really aiming these solutions at business owners and could need to reach even above the CIO level."

Secondly, while cloud computing seems to be all the rage right now, adoption of cloud technology in external environments might be some time coming.

"Customers want to have internal clouds, to be able to increase capacity and storage in an incremental fashion, but even with that, they are very much still in the 'kicking the tires' stage," says Judith Hurwitz, CEO of Hurwitz & Associates.