IBM storage chief Ed Walsh recently briefed TechRepublic on his plans to help turn around Big Blue, which this month entered its fifth consecutive year—21 fiscal quarters—of declining revenue.
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The IT giant has long offered a thorough product line and is profitable, yet faces stiff competition in most parts of its business. Storage competitors span niches such as cloud backup, flash arrays, and software-defined infrastructure. Similar market-share battles rage in sectors like data analytics, global services, security, and servers. Mainframes are the exception: IBM remains king of that market.
Walsh was general manager of IBM storage from 2010-2013 and returned in the same role a year ago. The group announced widespread product upgrades in 2016, which are becoming an annual cycle. "You're going to see us do a major refresh of almost all our products this fall, as we did last fall," he said.
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Upgrades last year emphasized flash storage, and that will continue, but there will also be upgrades to traditional storage arrays, backup software, and tape systems, Walsh said. "A lot of people think tiering is going away because of flash. But not all flash is created equal... so you are [still] going to tier," he noted, referring to the storage industry concept of saving pivotal data using fast, expensive methods and non-critical information using slower, cheaper methods.
Storage system upgrades typically focus on speeds and feeds, or on expanding existing software to work with the latest hardware and vice versa. IBM this month announced such updates in the form of Storage Server 5.2 and the DS8880F flash array series. The latter gained a zHyperLink card, which connects the array to IBM's new Z-mainframe systems at claimed speeds of 20-microsecond response time. IBM has published several articles about the card, yet remains quiet about how it actually works. Walsh did not elaborate.
Also on IBM's storage roadmap are usability improvements for backup software and integration with Watson analytics. Artificial intelligence is being widely planned among storage companies, although IBM may be best equipped to make it happen. Initial applications would include using AI for assisting with support and metadata, Walsh said. In those areas, some IBM customers are already very efficient—"And some are horrible," he noted, only half-joking.
Walsh said his group does its best to operate with a startup mentality while keeping in mind that IBM is the world's oldest information processing company—it started with punch-card accounting systems almost a century ago, when writers still spelled "computor" with an "-or" and the word meant the person, usually a woman, doing the math. IBM and others are also considering how to rewrite software to take advantage of not-so-new architectures. Now, he observed, "Uber is becoming a verb. New competitors are using technology to go after incumbents."
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Evan became a technology reporter during the dot-com boom of the late 1990s. He published a book, "Abacus to smartphone: The evolution of mobile and portable computers" in 2015 and is executive director of Vintage Computer Federation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization. His vices include running and Springsteen.