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Punctuating the “i” in Community



By Charles King, Pund-IT, Inc. June 16, 2008

For the most part, IT vendor announcements attend to practical issues, such as, product and service features, testimonials and all-important pricing and availability details. Occasionally, announcements gain significant symbolic gravity with the presence of certain company executives, the participation of partners and customers, and even the venue supplying additional weight to what might be an otherwise pedestrian event.

The IBM Power server platform announcement, which took place at the COMMON User Group Conference in Nashville, was one of those presentations that managed to rise above the ordinary. The first of two planned Power announcements, the event emphasized: 1) the importance of the Power platform in IBM’s overall product and company strategy and 2) the crucial role that IBM’s small- and medium-sized business (SMB) partners and customers, particularly those using the company’s System i solutions, play in that strategy’s success.

For IBM SMB partners and customers, there is no weightier event than COMMON, where the company introduces new products, discusses ongoing efforts, and reveals future plans for its small business and mid-market offerings. COMMON provided IBM an uncommon opportunity to engage the customers and partners who care most about the future direction of the company’s Power Systems and the unification of the AIX (UNIX), i (formerly i5/OS), and Linux operating environments on a single Power-enabled platform.

At one level, the Power unification announcement was anything but a surprise. Instead, it was simply the final destination after a lengthy and careful journey. That care speaks volumes about the legacy of the i platform, the first IBM system built for mid-market businesses. Introduced in 1988 as the AS400, the platform was designed as a continuation of IBM’s System/38 and added source compatibility with System/36. Ever since then, in its additional iSeries and System i incarnations, it has achieved legendary status among devoted customers, many of whom refer to the platform as the “mid-market mainframe” due to its remarkable reliability and resiliency.

The presence of both Mark Shearer, who until recently headed up the System i organization, and Ross Mauri, GM of the Power systems group, qualified as both a symbolic and literal passing of the “i” torch. But details revealed at COMMON were not left to chance. Prior to the announcement, IBM conducted comprehensive research with System i community members, including key customers and partners, to discuss how to best meet their needs with minimal disruption. Even the new “i” name was tested against (and met with the resounding approval) of this group.

In addition, the initial Power System product offerings featured in the announcement (the Power 520 Express, the Power 550 Express, and the i Edition Express for BladeCenter) were designed to pique the interest and enthusiasm of SMB “i” customers. All three offerings build on the i’s long history of technical and business flexibility. Additional benefits include IBM’s new Power 6 processors and the ability to simultaneously support “i,” AIX and Linux operating systems and applications in a single system. Such solutions may seem exotic to businesses fixated on Wintel solutions, but application and business integration is what the “i” is all about.

Most importantly, the IBM announcement recognized that simply expanding choices is not enough. Since SMBs of every sort face significant challenges and barriers related to IT deployment and management, expanded choice is only a valuable option insomuch as it also incorporates increased simplicity. IBM delivered the goods here in the form of simplified pricing and ordering options with three-year maintenance included in the lease price of some solutions, as well as a new suite of IBM Global Financing offerings designed for Power Systems.

Overall, IBM’s new Power offerings reflect the importance and respect the company holds for the SMB System i customers who helped make the platform a singular success. By choosing COMMON as the venue for its announcement, IBM forcefully punctuated the “i” in this key customer community. In doing so, IBM also proved that the unification of i, AIX and Linux on Power is not so much the end of a journey as it is the beginning of a new mainstream adventure in which all these platforms and their users are equal participants.

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