Today, IBM announced a new family of solutions called PureSystems. IBM calls this an “expert integrated solution”; it fits within the converged infrastructure trend. The code name for this project was “Project Clean Slate”. There is no doubt that it is tough for large corporations to make big changes in product strategy, so I’m always excited to see the launch of big multi-year solutions that take a fresh approach at solving customer problems. In the networking space, Juniper did this with its QFabric architecture. In the server space, HP did this with its Gen8 architecture. IBM is not the first converged solution (or even IBM’s first shot at this market – does anyone remember CloudBurst?), but 3 years and $2B investment went into developing PureSystems, which delivers a bold new vision for the future of the data center. The first two models in the PureSystems family are PureFlex and PureApplication, which IBM positioned as IaaS and PaaS respectively (both systems share the same hardware architecture). My top two highlights of the announcement were: workload management tuned to infrastructure and a new architecture that abandons blade servers for a redesigned converged chassis.
Workload management means that IBM can properly allocate resources based on application pattern expertise. It is very clear that IBM PureApplication with DB2 is targeting Oracle database customers, especially those with or considering Exadata. In addition to IBM applications, over 100 ISVs have shared expertise to help create a broad “Virtual Appliance Repository” that delivers default settings based on resource patterns. Virtualization adds a level of complexity to increasing utilization without overloading resources. IBM has a strong history with virtualization (and PureSystems will support VMware, Hyper-V, KVM and PowerVM), orchestrating the “IO blender” of a virtual environment is much more difficult than for any single application. It will be interesting to see how real-world utilization rates of IBM’s new systems compare with VCE’s Vblock, which are driving higher efficiencies than virtualization alone. PureApplication also promises to deliver a lot of operational savings. The nature of a converged solution (from any vendor) should greatly reduce the time to deploy; IBM claims it can be up and running in under 4 hours. Automation and system intelligence will also reduce manual tuning and planned outages. The ultimate goal is to help free IT to spend more resources on innovation and development rather than focusing on the infrastructure.
Server revenue is over half of the total convergence hardware market. IBM’s blade server business has been losing market share to Cisco UCS over the last two years. While Cisco and HP have based converged solutions on blade servers, IBM chose another path with PureSystems. The PureFlex architecture is a chassis that supports both Power and Intel processors, IBM Storwize v7000 storage, and internal networking. Up to 4 chassis fit in a rack and the system scales up to 4 racks. While HP has blurred the line between server and storage and Cisco has deeply integrated networking into server, IBM’s design principles were to provide “choice and flexibility” across the entire infrastructure. On the networking side, the solution offers Ethernet (1Gb, 10Gb, 40Gb with QSFP) and FC (Brocade and QLogic) options with InfiniBand on the roadmap. The intent of this announcement is to transition IBM’s declining blade server business to PureSystems, which will lead to a greater share of overall IT spend. The pressure on IBM and its partners in selling the solution is that if a customer decides not to purchase a PureSystems, it is more complicated to fall back to individual storage, network or compute deals than it is for HP, Cisco, EMC or Dell whose convergence solutions can also be sold in pieces. Driving towards convergence is skating to where the puck is going, but adoption of transformational IT solutions is notoriously slow.
IBM has deep expertise and a strong partner community to help deliver PureSystems. In examining the market, if converged solutions are measured on an axis of integration to choice and large enterprise to small business (PureFlex comes in Express, Standard and Enterprise models), only the IBM PureSystems spans across both axes. This in itself is a complexity that could easily cause confusion in the marketplace; of course consultants and integrators will in the education process. All of the big players are making a charge for the converged infrastructure market and IBM is now reloaded and ready for the battle.