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This week, IBM introduced its first two IT management appliances targeted at small and medium businesses. These first two solutions are part of a family that will eventually cover all the IT management needs of an enterprise, and cover availability and performance (IBM Tivoli Foundations Application Manager) and service desk IT services (IBM Tivoli Foundations Service Manager). The benefits expected are a rapid deployment at a lower cost due to the inclusion of automated configuration and deployment solutions. by itself, this is not really new and neither is it a complete revolution. Years ago, Oculan (now part of Raritan) and off shout of the Open NMS effort, presented a network management appliance for SMBs, with a similar strategy: sell exclusively through partners who can add their own flavor of services to the solution.
Recently, I was invited to attend an analyst briefing event at IBM's TJ Watson Research Center in Hawthorne, NY to hear about their new Business Analytics and Optimization service line. The company is quite excited about this new service line, which they describe as one designed to use analytics to help companies “improve the speed and quality of business decisions.” They cite some underlying drivers of demand – like the fact that many business leaders say they don’t have enough information to make business decisions, or that many business decisions are based on gut feel – as pointing to the fact that more customers will look to IBM for a quantitative, data-driven analysis of their business situation and options.
Overall, I was impressed. I had a very nice lunch with Fred Balboni (the service line leader) in which, in addition to discussing his ambitious cycling regimen, he explained why the new service line is both important to the market, and consistent with IBMs existing capabilities. The company claims that while the service line is new, they have been doing projects in this area for quite a while as part of their services work.
I get this question all the time because, let’s face it, it’s a significant decision. For example, an Enterprise Agreement (EA) renewal for an enterprise with the main desktop suite on, say, 10,000 PCs could cost around $1,500,000 per year. So what do you get for this outlay? You’ve already purchased a perpetual license for the relevant Microsoft products via your original EA, so the renewal is merely an extension of the maintenance element, which Microsoft calls Software Assurance (SA). Like most terms in Microsoft licensing, SA looks like an industry standard concept, but has sufficient Microsoft-specific nuances that confuses customers. The key differences from most vendors’ software maintenance offerings are that SA:
Is not tied to product support. Customers that aren’t paying SA still get access to patches, and can purchase additional support services from Microsoft or its partners on a time & materials basis.
Delivers upgrade rights that live on after the agreement expires. Customers earn rights to any version that Microsoft releases while they are on SA. So, for example, a customer paying SA on Microsoft Office for the next 12 months will earn the right to the next version, Office 14, due out at the end of 2009, even if it doesn’t intend to actually upgrade to that version for another 3 or 4 years
Includes many additional benefits that, though hard to value, are far from worthless. For example, the extra training, online e-learning and rights to use the same version on a home PC will certainly translate to more effective use of the software and enhanced user productivity, but it's very hard to give that a dollar value.