IBM – Ramping Up x86 Investment

I recently spent a day with IBM’s x86 team, primarily to get back up to speed on their entire x86 product line, and partially to realign my views of them after spending almost five years as a direct competitor. All in all, time well spent, with some key takeaways:

  • IBM has fixed some major structural problems with the entire x86 program and it perception in the company – As recently as two years ago, it appeared to the outside world that IBM was not really serious about x86 servers. Between licensing its low-end server designs to Lenovo (although IBM continued to sell its own versions) and an apparent retreat to the upper-end of the segment, it appeared that IBM was not serious about x86 severs. New management, new alignment with sales, and a higher internal profile for x86 seems to have moved the division back into IBM’s mainstream.
  • Increased investment – It looks like IBM significantly ramped up investments in x86 products about three years ago. The result has been a relatively steady flow of new products into the marketplace, some of which, such as the HS22 blade, significantly reversed deficits versus equivalent HP products. Others followed in high-end servers, virtualization and systems management, and increased velocity of innovation in low-end systems.
  • Established leadership in new niches such as dense modular server deployments – IBM’s iDataplex, while representing a small footprint in terms of their total volume, gave them immediate visibility as an innovator in the rapidly growing niche for hyper scale dense deployments. Along the way, IBM has also apparently become the leader in GPU deployments as well, another low-volume but high-visibility niche.

My net impression is that IBM has become a more effective competitor to HP in several key segments of the x86 market, including blades, converged fabric and virtualized I/O, and as a general competitor across the volume x86 server spectrum that is the mainstay of HP and Dell. All in all this is good news for I&O professionals in that it strengthens competition in a key segment of infrastructure technology.

Tell us what you think. Does this change IBM’s positioning for your future requirements?


One small miscalculation?

Is IBM still missing one key factor? HP and Dell still put their names in front of the people who buy - that is, on their desk or lap. There may not be the profit margin there that IBM likes, but it keeps the name in front of decision makers.

I also wonder if IBM is rethinking the mainframe-OS-on-x86 research they did once upon a time. With today's large clusters, perhaps they should.

IBM missing a key factor?

That's an intersting issue. Classical marketing doctrine supports your assertion, but IBM's recent results do not show any sign of any weakness that can be attributed to a weak brand, so I would have to weigh in on the negative side of this argument. It doesn't appear to me that not having the desktop and consumer presence has hurt IBM in the enterprise.

Anyone else wnat to weigh in on this?