James Governor's Monkchips

What if IBM has a clue: Get Lucky

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It’s easy to knock IBM, and a lot of developer types do. But IBM was not born in the era of digital abundance-driven developer primacy, rather from a time of top down purchasing of expensive machinery in an age of resource constraints. One thing I have noticed in my 18 years of covering the firm however, is that the firm has an amazing capacity to Get Lucky. Key competitors seem to stumble and then fall over at key moments.

Companies that should have hurt IBM include HP, which acquired a dominant position in a market IBM chose to abandon – PCs – and then lost its focus on commodity gear as it did things like buy the mainframe bad bank otherwise known as EDS.

Or Veritas, which was killing IBM until Symantec acquired it.

Or Dell, which has spent the last 10 years trying to escape the commodity trap – a trap that IBM never falls into.

Or VMware, which is currently in a weird holding position.

Or Oracle, which keeps buying companies, but keeps seeing software revenues decline, and equities analysts discount its shares.

Or Sun, well you know about Sun. It beat the crap out of IBM in the late 1990s then spectacularly self-immolated.

Or Microsoft, which had IBM on the back foot for a while, before losing focus.

But is this all really luck, or something else? As Louis Pasteur said: “Chance favours the prepared mind.”

Anyway some recent moves at IBM strike me as substantive, surprising, developer-focused and worth paying special attention to. A key driver behind these deals is Gerry Cuomo, an IBM middleware CTO recently given a business strategy role. Also keep an eye on Angel Diaz, who has set himself up as IBM’s mover and shaker on the West Coast. If it’s happening in the Valley, touches Cloud stuff, and IBM is involved, then it has Angel’s fingerprints on it.

So what has IBM done lately?

Adopt OpenStack

Acquire Softlayer

Adopt CloudFoundry (and quietly make a play to pwn it)

Adopted Mongo, to reach a developer audience it never could with DB2.

Start using Netflix tools like Chaos Monkey, adopting open source technology “given away” by what would normally be an IBM customer, not a tech provider.

Adopt Node.js – this is happening, IBM just hasn’t made a fuss of it. There will be a substantive play.

Persuade Google that POWER might have a role in high scale, low power data centres, bringing it into an alliance with IBM, NVidia and Mellanox. This last one is perhaps the most important point on the list. IBM can’t succeed in the enterprise if it can’t succeed at Web Scale. Is the target really Intel, or Facebook and its open data centre specification Open Compute? I would argue some of both. As Stephen has eloquently argued – hardware now faces some of same shifts as software. When Your Customer is Your Competitor: The Return of Roll Your Own.

As I often say, the best packager in any tech wave wins and wins big. Well IBM seems to be positioning itself as a potential master packager, helping enterprises to adopt technology born on the web, without worrying about IP and so on. Of course huge challenges face IBM- the small matter of Amazon and Google in cloud computing for example.

But In this business you make your own luck. If IBM is to succeed in the new era it needed a far better Developer Led Adoption story, and a better approach to embracing Web technology. Recent moves indicate it’s moving on both fronts.

Get Lucky.

disclosure: HP, IBM, 10Gen, Symantec, VMware are all clients.


  1. Danny Sabbah’s new role has also been helpful http://www.linkedin.com/in/danielsabbah

    1. Cheers Bill. Aware of Danny’s new role, but I don’t have as much insight into platforms he is driving and so on. Obviously we think we can help Danny with strategy, given RedMonk’s history in the space, but we haven’t been engaged by him

  2. Spot on James. I recently moved to STG to lead Software Defined Environments and I agree that we make our own luck. The world is changing the way people buy resources. But continue to buy they do.

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