On April 23, IBM rolled out the long-awaited POWER8 CPU, the successor to POWER7+, and given the extensive pre-announcement speculation, the hardware itself was no big surprise (the details are fascinating, but not suitable for this venue), offering an estimated 30 - 50% improvement in application performance over the latest POWER7+, with potential for order of magnitude improvements with selected big data and analytics workloads. While the technology is interesting, we are pretty numb to the “bigger, better, faster” messaging that inevitably accompanies new hardware announcements, and the real impact of this announcement lies in its utility for current AIX users and IBM’s increased focus on Linux and its support of the OpenPOWER initiative.
OK, so we’re numb, but it’s still interesting. POWER8 is an entirely new processor generation implemented in 22 nm CMOS (the same geometry as Intel’s high-end CPUs). The processor features up to 12 cores, each with up to 8 threads, and a focus on not only throughput but high performance per thread and per core for low-thread-count applications. Added to the mix is up to 1 TB of memory per socket, massive PCIe 3 I/O connectivity and Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI), IBM’s technology to deliver memory-controller-based access for accelerators and flash memory in POWER systems. CAPI figures prominently in IBM’s positioning of POWER as the ultimate analytics engine, with the announcement profiling the performance of a configuration using 40 TB of CAPI-attached flash for huge in-memory analytics at a fraction of the cost of a non-CAPI configuration.[i]
A Slam-dunk for AIX users and a new play for Linux
Management consultants and business intelligence, analytics and big data system integrations often use the terms accelerators, blueprints, solutions, frameworks, and products to show off their industry and business domain (sales, marketing, finance, HR, etc) expertise, experience and specialization. Unfortunately, they often use these terms synonymously, while in pragmatic reality meanings vary quite widely. Here’s our pragmatic take on the tangible reality behind the terms (in the increasing order of comprehensiveness):
Fameworks. Often little more than a collection of best practices and lessons learned from multiple client engagements. These can sometimes shave off 5%-10% of a project time/effort mainly by enabling buyers to learn from the mistakes others already made and not repeating them.
Solution Accelerators. Aka Blueprints, these are usually a collection of deliverables, content and other artifacts from prior client engagements. Such artifacts could be in the form of data connectors, transformation logic, data models, metrics, reports and dashboards, but they are often little more than existing deliverables that can be cut/pasted or otherwise leveraged in a new client engagement. Similar to Frameworks, Solution Accelerators often come with a set of best practices. Solution Accelerators can help you hit the ground running and rather than starting from scratch, find yourself 10%-20% into a project.
Solutions. A step above Solution Accelerators, Solutions prepackage artifacts from prior client engagements, by cleansing and stripping them of proprietary content and/or irrelevant info. Count on shaving 20% to 30% off the effort.
To jump on this R feeding frenzy most leading BI vendors claim that they “integrate with R”, but what does that claim really mean? Our take on this – not all BI/R integration is created equal. When evaluating BI platforms for R integration, Forrester recommends considering the following integration capabilities:
IBM recently kicked off its big data market planning for 2014 and released a white paper that discusses how analytics create new business value for end user organizations. The major differences compared with last year’s event:
Organizational change. IBM has assigned a new big data practice leader for China, similar to what it’s done for other new technologies including mobile, social, and cloud. IBM can integrate resources from infrastructure (IBM STG), software (IBM SWG), and services (IBM GBS/GTS) teams, although the team members do not report directly to them.
A new analytics platform powered by Watson technology. The Watson Foundation platform has three new functions. It can be deployed on SoftLayer; it extends IBM’s big data analysis capabilities to social, mobile, and cloud; and it offers enterprises the power and ease of use of Watson analysis.
Measurable benefits from customer insights analysis. Chinese organizations have started to buy into the value of analytics and would like to invest in technology tools to optimize customer insights. AmorePacific, a Hong Kong-based skin care and cosmetics company, is using IBM’s SPSS predictive analytics solution to craft tailored messages to its customers and has improved its response rate by more than 30%. It primarily analyzes point-of-sale data, demographic information from its loyalty program, and market data such as property values in the neighborhoods where customers live.
This week, IBM announced its new line of x86 servers, and included among the usual incremental product improvements is a performance game-changer called eXFlash. eXFlash is the first commercially available implantation of the MCS architecture announced last year by Diablo Technologies. The MCS architecture, and IBM’s eXFlash offering in particular, allows flash memory to be embedded on the system as close to the CPU as main memory, with latencies substantially lower than any other available flash options, offering better performance at a lower solution cost than other embedded flash solutions. Key aspects of the announcement include:
■ Flash DIMMs offer scalable high performance. Write latency (a critical metric) for IBM eXFlash will be in the 5 to 10 microsecond range, whereas best-of-breed competing mezzanine card and PCIe flash can only offer 15 to 20 microseconds (and external flash storage is slower still). Additionally, since the DIMMs are directly attached to the memory controller, flash I/O does not compete with other I/O on the system I/O hub and PCIe subsystem, improving overall system performance for heavily-loaded systems. Additional benefits include linear performance scalability as the number of DIMMs increase and optional built-in hardware mirroring of DIMM pairs.
■ eXFlash DIMMs are compatible with current software. Part of the magic of MCS flash is that it appears to the OS as a standard block-mode device, so all existing block-mode software will work, including applications, caching and tiering or general storage management software. For IBM users, compatibility with IBM’s storage management and FlashCache Storage Accelerator solutions is guaranteed. Other vendors will face zero to low effort in qualifying their solutions.
During 2014, we’ll pass a key milestone: an installed base of 2 billion smartphones globally. Mobile is becoming not only the new digital hub but also the bridge to the physical world. That’s why mobile will affect more than just your digital operations — it will transform your entire business. 2014 will be the year that companies increase investments to transform their businesses, with mobile as a focal point.
Let’s highlight a few of the mobile trends that we predict for 2014:
Competitive advantage in mobile will shift from experience design to big data and analytics. Mobile is transformative but only if you can engage your consumers in their exact moment of need with the right services, content, or information. Not only do you need to understand their context in that moment but you also need insights gleaned from data over time to know how to best serve them in that moment.
Mobile contextual data will offer deep customer insights — beyond mobile. Mobile is a key driver of big data. Most advanced marketers will get that mobile’s value as a marketing tool will be measured by more than just the effectiveness of marketing to people on mobile websites or apps. They will start evaluating mobile’s impact on other channels.
The majority of large organizations have either already shifted away from using BI as just another back-office process and toward competing on BI-enabled information or are in the process of doing so. Businesses can no longer compete just on the cost, margins, or quality of their products and services in an increasingly commoditized global economy. Two kinds of companies will ultimately be more successful, prosperous, and profitable: 1) those with richer, more accurate information about their customers and products than their competitors and 2) those that have the same quality of information as their competitors but get it sooner. Forrester's Forrsights Strategy Spotlight: Business Intelligence And Big Data, Q4 2012 (we are currently fielding a 2014 update, stay tuned for the results) survey showed that enterprises that invest more in BI have higher growth.
The software industry recognized this trend decades ago, resulting in a market swarming with startups that appeared and (very often) found success faster than large vendors could acquire them. The market is still jam-packed and includes multiple dynamics such as (see more details here):
All ERP and software stack vendors offer leading BI platforms
. . . but there's also plenty of room for independent BI vendors
Departmental desktop BI tools aimed at business users are scaling up
Enterprise BI platform vendors are going after self-service use cases.
Cloud offers options to organizations that would rather not deal with BI stack complexity.
Hadoop is breathing new life into open source BI.
The line between BI software and services is blurring
Rather than going with the usual, ubiquitous, and often (yawn) repetitive “top 10 BI predictions” for the next year, we thought we’d try something different. After all, didn’t the cult movie Highlander prove beyond the shadow of a doubt that “in the end there will be only one”? And didn’t the Lord Of The Rings saga convince us that we need one prediction “to rule them all”? The proposed top BI prediction for 2014 rests on the following indisputable facts:
Business and IT are not aligned. Business and IT stakeholders still have a huge BI disconnect (after all these years — what a shocker!). This is not surprising. Business users mostly care about their requirements, which are driven by their roles and responsibilities, daily tasks, internal processes, and dealings with customers (who have neither patience nor interest in enterprises’ internal rules, policies, and processes). These requirements often trump IT goals and objectives to manage risk and security and be frugal and budget minded by standardizing, consolidating, and rationalizing platforms. Alas, these goals and objective often take business and IT in different directions.
Requirements are often lost in translation. Business and IT speak different languages. Business speaks in terms of customer satisfaction, improved top and bottom lines, whereas IT speaks in metrics (on a good day), star schemas, facts, and dimensions. Another consideration is that it’s human nature to say what we think others want to hear (yes, we all want our yearly bonus) versus what we really mean. My father, a retired psychiatrist, always taught me to pay less attention to what people say and pay more attention to what people actually do — quite handy and wise fatherly advice that often helps navigate corporate politics.
I regularly hear CIOs and IT suppliers discussing the “four pillars” of cloud, social, mobile, and big data as if they’re an end in themselves, creating plenty of buzz around all four. But really, they’re just a means to an end: Cloud, social, mobile, and big data are the tools we use to reach the ultimate goal of providing a great customer experience. Most CIOs in Australia do understand that digital disruption and customer obsession are the factors that are changing their world, and that the only way to succeed is to embrace this change.