Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Last Time IBM Grew Sales, I Worked There

IBM has been dead money in Ginni Rometty era - Jul. 21, 2015:
IBM hasn't reported a year-over-year increase in sales since the first quarter of 2012. That was also Rometty's first quarter as IBM CEO. (She took over the company on January 1, 2012.)
It might be nice to imagine that it "had something to do with me". No chance -- but I do speculate a bit that my demise and the drop in IBM have related causes.

The last project I worked on was a way to move internet access (digital data breakout) to cell towers "Node B's"  .. moving logic related to being able to do data operations (caching at a minimum, but potentially much more) at the first link between the cellular end node (your phone) and the cellular network.

A nice piece of technology and we got a bunch of patents, but as the Bible says "without vision the people perish" -- as do projects and jobs. It didn't make enough revenue quick enough for the new CEOs taste, so the project was canceled with me along with it.

IBM's business  from the '60s on was being the ruler of the computing industry -- IBM up to 1990 and beyond being built on the momentum of the 360 architecture including Operating Systems (MVS, TSO, VM, etc) to run it as well as DBMS (Database) CICS (Transaction Processing), IMS (inventory and general hierarchical DB ops) ... and a lot of other expensive alphabet soup we could just go on listing.

IBM first lost it's way in the PC era -- creating the modern PC market (with Apple as an also-ran in those days), but failing to be able to exert control in the way IBM did from the 60's through the 70's in it's other markets. Disastrous projects like "Token Ring"  and  SNA -- IBM's  massive bureaucratic behemoth attempt at doing what Ethernet and TCP/IP do so elegantly and well, along with the ill fated OS/2 -- IBM being dumb enough to trust Bill Gates -- as well as not really understanding that in the PC market in those days, "he who wasted the most MIPS wins!".

When you were once exceptional -- as IBM and America once were, the rest of the world takes special joy in seeing you go down. And since the early '90s, IBM has never been able to come up with a vision for the company that would allow it to move into some new form of greatness. The IBM name has become more associated with expensive technical parlour tricks like "Deep Blue", the chess playing computer and "Watson", the Jeopardy computer. While IBM itself is in increasing "jeopardy", these slights of hand have been entertaining to many, but the results speak for themselves.

IBM attempted to shuffle hardware, software and services in various mixes. First to SOFTWARE, hardware and services -- but never really could. Too many powerful hardware people in too many high positions. Then it moved to SERVICES ... with software and hardware fighting in the background and much of services being managing customers moves away from IBM hardware and software.

When there is no overall vision for people to line up behind and in general work towards, they fight for survival for their own piece of turf. Tivoli (systems management software) developed the brilliant strategy of being a "service" wedded to expensive software. When you installed the mega expensive Tivioli package you were locked in to a long term mega expensive services contract to keep it working -- because it took a LOT of people spending A LOT of time on site to keep it running, and as a bonus (for IBM), it ate expensive hardware CPU cycles like an NFL offensive line eats steaks during training camp!

While this generally sucked for customers -- so much so that I and a group of IBMers visiting a customer were threatened with removal from the building if we so much as MENTIONED the word "Tivoli" again -- at the places that it could be enmeshed, it was a major revenue source. Revenue source for that little corner of IBM named "Tivoli" -- but a good way to help get IBM thrown out of a lot of places.

As a flip side, the S/38 -> AS/400 -> i5/OS -> iSeries-> IBM i ???  that I worked on for decades was explicitly designed and largely delivered on being a computer that you could lock in a room somewhere and run your business for years -- even forgetting where it was. (as a few customers famously did, even apparently closing off the room on the AS/400 and not being able to find the source of their computational resources).

You may now be validly wonder if this is going anywhere beyond sour grapes. Maybe not -- but here is the punchline. Computing that is "just there" is exactly what Cloud promises to deliver. IBM certainly had the foremost experts on "Utility Computing" (think of it like your electric power) in the aging iSeries crew  -- of course not without their own set of problems as in being unable to separate the utility delivered from the specific architecture they had used to provide it. The separation from functionality desired from specific example mechanisms is always a challenge.

My vision is that within the next "10 years", someone -- Google, AT&T, Verizon, HP, Oracle ... or someone new, maybe even Apple, or some Chinese company. Will figure out that the Internet is best served from the Node B -- no reason to have a bunch of wires anymore. May as well have all the storage, software, etc managed by "someone else" at the first hop on the network. "Information Technology" (IT) becomes a task of interfacing with a "provider" -- just like electricity or water today.

Like all "visions", this may well not happen, or happen significantly differently  -- and there are LOTS of "technical / legal / business / regulatory / etc" hurdles left in making it happen -- HOWEVER, this is being written on a Chromebook using Google's "Blogger" ... Gdrive is my go to place to put data, photos, etc now. A lot is happening down this road.

Kinda like the old Six Million Dollar Man -- "we have the technology" -- or more to the point, at the time I left IBM we had people with the knowledge to provide computing capability that could be locked in a closet and forgotten (like a Node B), and we had some of the seminal technology to deliver that computing from the first hop from your cell (or laptop, iPad, etc).

Plus, the name IBM hadn't sunk as badly as it has and continues to do now -- while the numbers are rapidly shrinking, there were and likely still are companies that could see IBM as being the the right company to have a "vision" for Cloud Computing that would be worth turning that critical function over to as they do their electricity generation.

Today we have IBM as "dead money"  -- the world of "if" is sometimes bittersweet.

'via Blog this'

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