IBM’s IOD Conference: Reactions

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True, IBM’s Information On Demand conference is two weeks in the past, but better late than never, as they say.

The conference, of relatively recent vintage, is the annual gathering of customers, partners and others investing in IBM’s information management (database et al) platforms. And in a conference climate that’s seeing $120 rates at upscale San Francisco hotels, IOD seemed reasonably full. It’s grown pretty quickly for a venue that’s only a few years old; quickly enough that Vegas, sadly, is the venue of choice.

For those that were either unaware of the conference or unable to attend, a few quick themes and reactions.

Real Time

Real time information has been the promise of projects as long – longer, actually – as I’ve been in this business. At no time, however, has it been more in demand than at present, when a difference in real time and near real time information can mean a quantitative difference in lives or returns, depending on whether we’re talking about defense, healthcare or the financial sector. Anyone care to bet that real-time compliance isn’t going to be an in demand application following the near complete collapse of our banking system?

It comes as no surprise, then, that real time was a common theme in IOD presentations. But it goes beyond clever marketing, as some of the efforts of the stream research project – funded in part by unnameable government agencies for several years – surface in production systems.

The Stream technologies are reportedly sophisticated enough to process not just text in real time, but audio or video. Which I found impressive. I haven’t spoken to any of the people using this stuff yet, so it’s unclear to me how practical/scalable/etc this technology is outside of a few high margin deployments, but it’s definitely something I’ll be keeping an eye on.


Along with real time, and presumably tied to their Smart Planet initiative, telemetry was a key theme of not just the IBMers at the show, but the customers and partners I spoke with.

And why not? Even on a personal level, each of us is generating massive amounts of telemetry each day. From the obvious email records, to burgeoning monitoring of everything from money (Mint) to music (Last.fm) to travel (Dopplr) to location enabled home monitoring services (see this Android example), telemetry is increasingly important. More important is the ability to process it and act on it.

Which is where IBM spent a lot of focus – the process by which telemetry is consumed and information is returned.


Unique for the conferences I’ve attended recently, IOD featured a minimum of discussion around cloud related initiatives. Part of this, presumably, is IBM’s lack of an offering in the cloud data management space, but it’s also related, I suspect, to the size of some of the information stores discussed at the show. While I remain as bullish as ever on the opportunity afforded by the cloud, the challenges of large scale datasets present some significant challenges to the paradigm. One cloud customer I spoke this week has a 6 plus petabyte database; by my back of the envelope calculations, if that was uploaded at the speeds afforded by my home DSL connection, the transfer would conclude sometime around never.

Still, the lack of cloud discussion was notable, for even if IBM’s traditional customer set and traditional workloads don’t lend themselves perfectly to cloud environments, it’s being targeted by many vendors as a massive greenfield opportunity.

Much like that that fueled the original growth of MySQL, in fact.


As is typical in these economic Last Days, there were a great many questions put to IBM about the economy, their exposure to its challenges, and the outlook for the business. The answer, as perhaps could have been anticipated, was that while the economic outlook would undeniably present challenges to IBM and its ability to execute, they were comfortable with their position because of both their ability to weather previous economic storms and the increased relevance of their product lines to customers that would be looking to extract ever more value from their data.

Marketing & Jargon: The Good and the Bad

When it comes to their marketing efforts, the good news is that IBM is largely speaking the language of its traditional customer set. The standard large enterprise that does business with IBM has a seemingly endless appetite for the jargon that IBM happily serves up, with phrases like “Better Business Outcomes,” “End-to-end Capabilities,” and “Business Optimization Growth” growth dominating their marketing materials.

And to IBM’s credit, in addition to speaking a language that its customers seem to understand, the examples are heavy on customer and industry case studies, so there is some grounding. Which is the good.

But still, it’s all Greek to me – and I’m an analyst. These are a set of phrases I cribbed verbatim from a single presentation at the IOD conference:

  • optimized business process capabilities
  • innovation for growth
  • business optimization era
  • unlocking the business value of information
  • new value that you would create though business optimization and transformation

What does any of that actually mean? To me, to you, or to a potential customer? IBM marketing, business focused as it typically is, has long tended to the abstract, but in certain cases it’s crossed the line into consultant bingo. Which suits a certain class of enterprise customer nicely, but is generally incomprehensible to anyone else.

It would be nice, in future, to see more concrete, less abstract presentations from the IBM Information Management folks, because one of the keys to marketing these technologies is making them real, and abstraction does not serve that cause. Quite the contrary.

Disclosure: IBM is a RedMonk customer, and comped hotel costs for this conference.


  1. great point about the marketing, stephen. bingo is not a good place to be.

  2. Customers who soak up and thrive on jargon use it as a way to avoid thinking. (This is true regardless of vendor, and is an outgrowth of managerial culture: see John Ralston Saul, “Voltaire’s Bastards”.)

    They’d really rather not think things through and apply it to their own situation. They are delighted with case studies and so-called best practices, because it gives them the feeling of safety without earning it. Not only that, the fear factor underlying all this is eased by the sense of having company.

    Few people choose freedom instead of a feeling of security, and this is just another place that shows up.

  3. Regarding large cloud datastores, check out EMC’s announcement today of Atmos, a massively scalable, globally distributed Cloud Optimized Storage system. 6 petabytes is a walk in the park for this product.
    * Office press release: http://tinyurl.com/6nmolj
    * Commentary from Storagezilla: http://tinyurl.com/6ds7zb
    * Commentary from Steve Todd: http://tinyurl.com/6rx972

  4. […] 11, 2008 by jt A slightly overdue look back at the Information on Demand conference; check Stephen’s post for […]

  5. @bruce … bingo! (if you’ll pardon the pun) – my experience exactly. Seems to me the larger the customer organisation, the better that “newspeak” goes across – maybe because they can re-use it to ‘baffle with bullshit’ at management meetings?

    It IS a symptom of outsourcing your thinking …

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