Why Should I Use An IBM Business Partner?

Wouldn’t it make more sense to deal directly with IBM?

This is a topic of much discussion around the TxMQ office these days, as it is at other solutions providers. Prospective customers often ask us: If my company’s able to go direct with my manufacturer/vendor (be it IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, or whomever), why shouldn’t we?
It’s a fair question. Companies, especially large ones, oftentimes have multilayered supply-chain relationships for acquiring software, hardware, and talent.
On the one hand, long-standing, embedded relationships often dictate the way a company acquires technical solutions. A friendship nurtured through years of trusted business dealings – sometimes called a “trusted advisor” relationship – may be the perfectly legitimate and ideal way of solving technical challenges. Yet sometimes things change. What happens when your salesperson – the same salesperson who’s covered your company for years – resigns?
Back to the broader topic of direct or business partner: As software and hardware companies like IBM and the other majors evolve over time, their business models push more sales through channel partners. Business partners are inevitably smaller companies, and are typically far better equipped to build and maintain longstanding, deep customer relationships. Sales teams at the major vendors change, oftentimes annually, leading to spotty coverage of accounts, and occasionally even leaving some companies with no direct coverage at all.
Business partners typically offer more consistency and stability of coverage. In addition, as IBM and the majors continue to add layers of complexity to their brands, and shift products in their portfolios, it’s very difficult for companies (and even their field salespeople), to keep products straight.
Surprisingly, this is a knowledge area in which partners tend to excel. Most of the leadership at business partners were themselves former employees of the majors. They left the majors to explore greater freedom to engage with customers, and to build deeper, better relationships over longer periods of time without the bureaucracy that comes with working in a large shop, or the threat of annual account “realignment.”
Also, as solutions offered to customers become more complex and cross over traditional brand borders, business partners are better able to navigate these tricky waters.
Recently IBM, along with other majors, went through internal realignments that left salespeople covering products new to them, and others were shifted to entirely new lines of business. Not so with business partners, who are free to engage as they always have.
What about software and hardware sales? Logic says it must be cheaper to buy direct. No indeed. IBM, as one example, has dramatically shifted internal teams, and reduced field and inside sales coverage to better align their resources with today’s market. What does this mean? It means it’s usually cheaper to order software and hardware from a partner. IBM knows it’s very expensive to have a large, geographically dispersed sales team, and far more cost-effective to let IBM business partners sell more and more software, services and hardware for them.
Partners therefore have full access to special bid requests, discounting, plus any and all sales tools a direct seller has in the arsenal. In addition, it goes without saying that a business partner’s services rates are nearly always below IBM direct rates.
In the end, each company must decide what’s best for itself, but don’t presume that the way you engaged with IBM and others in the past is the best way to engage in the future. A business partner can be your best ally to stay current with technology, and enable the nimble, robust infrastructure your company needs to compete and win in today’s marketplace.
Let’s take this conversation a bit further – email me at [email protected].
(Image by Flazingo Photos)

What The x86 Deal Delivers To Lenovo, IBM And Users

The Lenovo purchase of IBM’s low-end x86 server business closed about a month ago. Now that all the smoke has cleared, it’s time to examine a few of the angles about why the sale went down, what it delivers to both Lenovo and IBM, and how it affects current users of IBM-branded x86 equipment.
First, the easy question: Why the sale?
Think back to 2005 when Lenovo bought IBM’s PC business. Lenovo instantly became the third-largest PC supplier in the world and is now the largest (ahead of HP and Dell, based on unit sales). The ThinkPad that Lenovo bought from IBM is the most successful and most durable everyman’s laptop in the word, and it continues to endure with top and near-top worldwide marketshares.
Lenovo wants to replicate that success with its purchase of IBM’s everyman server technology. And when the deal closed, and Lenovo finally became the owner of IBM’s profitable x86 server business, Lenovo immediately went from 6th to 3rd in marketshare in the x86 market (behind, yep, HP and Dell).
Sure, the x86 stuff is pretty unsexy. It’s a commodity. Sort of like Lego blocks. But the historic low cost of the product means that x86 stuff is still a major core infrastructure component for red-hot market segments like big data and cloud deployments. And remember that Lenovo will also acquire Motorola Mobility – the smartphone business that Google bought from Motorola in 2011 – by the end of the year. Mobile data’s one of the main drivers of the growth in large-scale commodity-server deployment. So it’s a proper marriage for Lenovo.
For reference, here’s the formal list of the x86 product that Lenovo bought from IBM:

  • System x racks and towers
  • x86 BladeCenter
  • x86 Flex System blade servers and integrated systems
  • Associated software, switching and maintenance operations

What does the sale deliver to both companies? For IBM, it allows Big Blue to continue to divest itself of commodity-hardware manufacturing and to continue its trend of crafting strategic partnerships with hardware manufacturers. Lenovo’s a big partner, but don’t forget IBM’s historic alliance with Apple, announced in July. There’s a different type of hardware integration happening right now, where workplace functionality and process is no longer desktop-specific. IBM has a lot to gain by selling a solid hardware business like the x86 line to Lenovo, because Lenovo can deliver legendary efficiency and scalability to gain more share for the servers and thus benefit IBM process software and platforms far into the future.
Does anybody really think IBM should still be making and selling PCs? Ask that same question about low-grade servers 2 years from now.
But the question looms: Where does all this leave current IBM x86 customers? Not much should change, according to both Lenovo and IBM. Former IBM server chief Adalio Sanchez – who led the x86 server business at IBM – is now senior vice-president of enterprise systems, reporting to Gerry Smith, Lenovo’s president for the North America region.
There’s talk that the entire x86 business might suddenly be more approachable – both from an IBM and Lenovo standpoint. There’s also speculation, likely grounded in truths, that strong incentives will emerge to align Lenovo PC users with x86 servers. That’s a bit of good news for firms and customers who want incentives to scale and align at the same time.

IBM's SoftLayer and MobileFirst Portfolios Create Leadership Position In Latest Gartner Magic Quadrant Report

Gartner recently recognized IBM as a leader in its 2014 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Managed Mobility Services (MMS). The distinction is noteworthy for several reasons.
First is the scale of the report. Gartner evaluated 14 vendors, and among them, IBM was the only leader based on what Gartner described as “completeness of vision” and “ability to execute.” To distill it a bit more, IBM’s suite of services, including SoftLayer cloud services, delivers a top-to-bottom mobile support and integration solution – very important for shops that don’t want the hassle of mix-and-match technology and platforms.
IBM’s mobility services fall within its IBM MobileFirst portfolio – an enterprise initiative that is the first product of the recently announced partnership between Apple and IBM.  MobileFirst enables clients to build and deploy mobile applications, and at the same time protect and manage the mobile infrastructure and engage customers in context. Think of it as a ground-up mobile approach – not a simple “desktop migration.”
Even though IBM continues to invest in its mobile-support and enablement portfolio, the Gartner report clearly shows the importance of a growing Soft Layer investment combined with the MobileFirst focus. That strategy continues to be strengthened with further acquisitions including the purchase of Fiberlink, which specializes in mobile-device management and security.
Interested in a new way to develop and manage mobile? TxMQ is an IBM Premier Partner with capabilities across IBM’s mobile platforms. Contact vice president Miles Roty for more information: (716) 636-0070 x228, [email protected].
(Photo by Michael Coghlan under Creative Commons license.)

AT&T Partners With IBM Cloud To Extend MPLS Services

AT&T NetBondSM is a network-enabled cloud solution that allows customers to extend their MPLS VPN to cloud-service providers with enhanced speed and security.
AT&T and IBM recently announced a partnership under which AT&T will extend its NetBondSM services to IBM’s SoftLayer cloud platform. That’s good news for customers because MPLS offers stronger security and performance above standard public Internet. Plus, the IBM and AT&T alliance will allow customers to easily create hybrid-cloud computing solutions. AT&T VPN customers can use NetBondSM to connect their IT infrastructure to SoftLayer’s cloud services. These are highly secure, highly-reliable, high-performance connections.
The official announcement quoted Jim Comfort (GM of IBM’s cloud services). According to Comfort, the alliance provides options for customers to better leverage hybrid cloud. Coast-to-coast secure connectivity is critical, and the MPLS-based, dedicated NetBondSM network is ideal. In essence, customers can move workloads to and from SoftLayer platforms as if they were on a LAN. Furthermore, the bandwidth is dynamic and allows customers to use as much or as little bandwidth as they need.
Here’s a brief look at some AT&T NetBond benefits:

  • Simple: Works seamlessly with existing AT&T VPN through APIs, creating an automated experience. Customers don’t need to order or manage any other equipment or access lines.
  • Savings: Network elasticity that automatically flexes with the needs of the cloud service. Companies can save as much as 60% on networking costs.
  • Performance: Delivers as much as 50% lower latency and three times the availability when compared with the public Internet.
  • Security: Isolates traffic going directly to cloud platforms using the AT&T private global network, providing more protections from risks such as DDoS attacks.

The combined AT&T/IBM services are expected to be available sometime in Q1 2015.
Want to move into the Cloud but not sure how to do it? TxMQ can help. Initial consultations are free and confidential. Contact vice president Miles Roty: (716) 636-0070 x228, [email protected].

Using IBM MessageSight For Remote Vehicle Services

The past year has shown us this important trend: Automobiles are the prime driver behind the growth of the Internet of Things. The thought of connected dishwashers and toasters and thermostats and hockey sticks is intriguing, but smartcars are where the action’s at. Manufactures know it. App developers know it. And IBM knows it too.
IBM, in fact, is heavily pushing its MessageSight appliance as a connected-car solution for remote services. Big Blue’s approach is logical, and I like the company’s suggested use cases. Here are a few examples of how MessageSight might be deployed to support remote vehicle services.

  1. Unlock doors. We already have remote unlock via key fobs and satellite, but the third option of a phone or pad unlock would be extremely handy. It would also save insurance companies money due to less frequent locksmith reimbursements. And it’s pure gold for car-rental companies that no longer need an employee to be onsite to unlock vehicles.
  2. Monitor warm-up temperatures. Remote car starters are already common, but MessageSight could empower climate control via phone or pad to not only start your car, but monitor the air conditioning and heater as well.
  3. Vehicle gauges. Develop an app to interface with the dashboard display to monitor tire pressure, fuel level, oil level, battery charge and more. Then interface those readings with calendaring software to generate reminders and schedule maintenance appointments.
  4. Vehicle Find. Key fobs only broadcast so far. Tap your phone or pad to toot the horn or flash the lights in a giant parking lot to easily find your vehicle.
  5. Predictive maintenance. Manufactures can collect data on usage and performance to lessen warranty claims and deliver push notifications for suggested maintenance plateaus.
  6. Driver assistance features. This technology is rapidly expanding. Prior examples of driver-assistance features include anti-lock brakes, object sensors and reprogrammed shift sequences. The near future is sure to include adaptive cruise control, infrared driving aids, lane-departure warnings, laser-based object sensing and more – all controlled via phone or pad.
  7. Increased efficiencies for fleet management. Enable real-time communication, routing and updates between driver, the vehicle itself and the sales-order system.

What sets MessageSight apart is how well the appliance integrates to support different networks and data-exchange rates, as well as the way it delivers appliance-quality security to the edge of the network.
Learn more about MessageSight: Contact TxMQ vice president Miles Roty for a free and confidential consultation: (716) 636-0070 x228, [email protected].

Even More Integration Options For the DataPower XB62

I wanted to continue yesterday’s blog with a few more details about the WebSphere DataPower XB62 appliance – in particular, its flexibility. Along with application and B2B integration, the XB62 can also very rapidly transform data between a number of different formats such as XML, industry standards and even custom data formats.
Furthermore, the XB62 is capable of broader integration functions including routing, bridging, transformation and event handling. And because it’s also a security appliance, DataPower integration solutions by their nature are stable, secure, reliable and performance-oriented.
The DataPower solution is especially elegant for companies that handle more than XML and find themselves needing to connect their B2B and SOA deployments at the same time they manage a stew of proprietary, legacy and trading-partner-specific data formats.
Essentially, the XB62 is a true drop-in B2B and SOA integration point that can stretch vital applications across the enterprise. The immediate benefit is that a company can bring services to market more quickly, and better accommodate clients and partners via painless and secure data and application integration.
For more information on TxMQ’s many DataPower solutions for all industries, contact vice president Miles Roty – (716) 636-0070 x228, [email protected] – for a confidential and free initial consultation.
Illustration by Sean MacEntee (Creative Commons license).

How The IBM DataPower XB62 Bridges Internal And External (B2B) Integration

One of the more elegant features of the DataPower XB62 appliance is its dual ability to govern internal application integration as well as external B2B (or Trading Partner) integration. In essence, the XB62 bridges the gap between internal and external integration, which is what makes it such a complete solution for so many different types of businesses.
In support of the XB62, IBM states that the company “recognizes the convergence” of internal and external integrations. And it’s obvious that the need for integrations near or at  the edge of the network is growing rapidly. By opting to deploy the XB62 you can better support complex B2B flows and become more flexible in routing and file processing. It’s therefore much easier to bridge between the DMZ and protected networks without sacrificing security. This in turn allows you to attract more partners due to the ease, flexibility and security of the external integration.
One oft-cited example of an XB62 deployment is to have the XB62 sit in the DMZ, where it securely connects to trading partners, but that same appliance also exchanges data with a DataPower X152 appliance within the protected network, which handles all the enterprise service bus functions.
TxMQ successfully deployed a DataPower XB62 solution for Medical Mutual of Ohio that serves as a strong example of the appliance’s secure integration capabilities. Medical Mutual wanted to take on more trading partners and more easily align with government protocols, but lacked the infrastructure to support it. “We needed to set up trading-partner software and a B2B infrastructure so we could move the data inside and outside the company,” says Eleanor Danser, EDI Manager, Medical Mutual of Ohio. “The parts that we were missing were the trading-partner software and the communications piece to support all the real-time protocols that are required from the ACA, which is the Affordable Care Act.”
TxMQ’s DataPower XB62 solution delivered $250,000 to $500,000 annual savings on transaction fees for Medical Mutual, as documented in this story published by Insight Magazine.
For more information on TxMQ’s many DataPower solutions for all industries, contact vice president Miles Roty – (716) 636-0070 x228, [email protected] – for a confidential and free initial consultation.

IBM Watson & Why I Believe In The Goodness Of Technology

Count me as genuinely excited about IBM’s announcement that researchers are now able to use its Watson cognitive computer for medical research.  This is the computer that dusted the all-time human Jeopardy champs in a real-time game. The announcement came a few days after I toured the Museum of Computer History in Palo Alto, Calif. and stood at the podium of the actual Jeopardy set used for the Watson game.
I want to see cancer gone. I have family members surviving it, I’ve lost family members because of it over the past 2 years. And although we’ve improved some treatments, it just seems we’re nowhere nearer a cure. A computer like Watson can help. It can essentially synthesize all the world’s data on the disease. It can fairly quickly scan and distill more than 60,000 or 600,000 journal articles about a single topic, whereas a researcher is lucky to be able to read one or two articles a day.
IBM calls the new cloud-based Watson service “Discovery Advisor” – a nod toward a conviction I share, that technology combined with human curiosity and passion is what drives exploration, discovery and advancement.
The fact that we can all now essentially tap into the most powerful computer in the world – a computer unlike built before – is a comforting light in a world that suddenly seems to be turning darker with armies on the march that want nothing more than to destroy technology and launch a second Dark Ages.
Here’s a great retroactive vid on Watson’s Jeopardy victory, in case you missed it the first time around.

(Photo courtesy of IBM)

Use Asset Management To Control Costs And Create A More Secure Enterprise Environment

Enterprise environments, by nature, are often cluttered with all sorts of licensed, previously licensed and probably some unlicensed applications and tools in various states of use. Think: Does your business maintain an install and uninstall record of all software? How well did your IT department document that project 2 years ago where you brought in all those contractors and software tools you haven’t used since? Did the project closeout include the uninstallation and/or decommissioning of no-longer-needed hardware and software? Based on what we’ve seen in the marketplace, the answers are not always, not well and not at all.
While this is an area that sits squarely under the umbrella of asset management, it also touches on compliance, and process and control.
Gaps in these areas create two very real problems.
1. An audit from a software vendor, say IBM, that reveals unpaid licensed software can generate large and unforeseen charges – especially if your company has grown substantially since the original install date.
2. Hackers are expert at exploiting the sorts of weaknesses these lapses can create. Oftentimes, the hacks come from within the organization, not from the outside.
There are a number of tools to help companies with asset management.
IBM’s License Metric Tool, or ILMT, is a free IBM-specific tool under its new Tivoli-based IBM Endpoint Manager. (The prior version of ILMT was server-based.) ILMT acts like a ferret: Install it, let it out of its cage and it will start digging to find every IBM product running on the servers (there is a bit more to the installation than this, but the author hopes you understand the analogy). Analysts can then easily map the findings to understand locations, history, activity and license agreements.
ILMT is free, hence its limitation: It can only detect and report IBM-related ware. A buy-up to the Software Use Analysis (SUA) tool, which also runs under the IBM Endpoint Manager, can detect non-IBM ware. That means you can quickly and easily map Oracle, Microsoft and other commonly licensed software – whether active, inactive or hidden.
A recent Gartner Report evaluated the new IBM Endpoint Manager for ILMT and SUA against competitors, identified it as a “Leader” and noted:
“Endpoint Manager’s primary differentiator is that the tool’s intelligence is on the endpoint, rather than the server. This allows the agent to actively discover a deviation from policy and execute remediation, rather than rely on a predefined schedule of system scans and subsequent server-side reporting. This enables organizations to maintain higher degrees of configuration compliance. The product’s endpoint-oriented control, along with its relay server architecture, results in a relatively small server footprint to support the Endpoint Manager environment, and makes it a good fit for highly distributed environments.”
But the report cautioned: “Uptake of OS deployment remains low. Organizations cite a lack of documentation and known best practices to use this module effectively. Certain patches (e.g., Microsoft nonsecurity) often require manual configuration prior to deployment. IBM’s packaging, bundling options and pricing of its various management functionality are complex and can be challenging for users to understand.”
As an IBM Premier Partner, TxMQ is uniquely qualified to help your business acquire, install, run and act on the results of IBM Endpoint Manager for ILMT and/or SUA.
To get started, contact TxMQ vice president and middleware specialist Mile Roty: (716) 636-0070 x226, [email protected], LinkedIn.com/In/MilesRoty.
Photo courtesy of Sean MacEntee.

Tracking IoT Conversations: Where The Material Meets The Ethereal

There’s been a marked increase in chatter about the coming IoT – the “internet of things” – with some important revelations and developments this week and last about the quick ramp-up of this emerging and potentially $19T space.
When you track the conversation, there’s an important distinction in voice. On the one hand we have the makers of the things (those ones who manufacture the objects). On the other we have the connectors of the things (those who write the software to network the objects). The one hand is the material, the other the ethereal.
A strong voice within the maker space is German industrial powerhouse Robert Bosch, Inc. The company’s chairman of the board of management Volkmar Denner recently gave an interview to the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag. Denner was asked about Google and whether Google (aided by its $3B acquisition of Nest) will grow to dominate the interconnectivity of everyday physical objects like garage-door openers, bicycles, thermostats, cars and power tools, just as it dominates search, user video and a major chunk of mobile. Here’s a snippet from the interview:
Welt am Sonntag: Google has also acquired the connected device company Nest, so it is making inroads into the world of physical objects. Will Google dominate the internet of things??
Denner: In my view, it’s still not been decided who will play the most important part in the internet of things – IT companies or companies that truly understand the objects themselves. It’s often forgotten that Bosch already produces software that is integrated into objects. This is an area we have a better handle on than the dedicated IT software houses. In the connected world, Bosch benefits from a combination of both hardware and software expertise – coupled with our broad technical base and the depth of our knowledge of the sector.
Welt am Sonntag: So is Google being overvalued?
Denner: I have great respect for Google. But what’s essential here is to have expertise in physical objects. And we are currently seeing that IT companies are in fact still struggling to get to grips with the world of objects. It’s no easy task to reliably manufacture good, high-quality objects.
Denner’s comments set a nice springboard for this week’s news that Bosch Automotive – the corporation’s largest business segment, which represents 66% of Bosch’s annual $6.3B revenue – partnered with IBM to create a brand new engineering platform for auto-component connectivity. A joint press release announced the partnership and noted: “Driven by innovation in consumer electronics technology, the automotive sector is under immense evolutionary pressure. Today’s vehicles are more connected than ever – containing as many as 100 computerized controllers and 10 million lines of software code. As vehicle complexity continues to rise, automotive suppliers must address pressures to reduce costs and to innovate quickly, while also managing the intense challenge of delivering vehicle quality.”
So here’s a situation where Bosch and IBM created a partnership to co-develop the material and the ethereal from day-1 planning through process and into production – the exact combination Denner says is critical to succeed within the new now of the IoT. It’s an important distinction, again because in the emerging world of the IoT, connectivity must be a germinal, not latent thought. The influence of Steve Jobs is obvious.
Maybe this will be the ultimate legacy of Steve Jobs, who first championed the marriage of OS and hardware in Apple 1.0, then later developed the holy trinity of integrated OS, hardware and industrial design in Apple 2.0. A legacy whereby the equal interplay of connectivity, materials and design will revolutionize and guide the 21st century of manufacturing, the same way Ford’s assembly line revolutionized and guided the 20th century.
All of which then sets up important commentary from the application-side of the discussion. I recommend you take the time to read Dr. Hossein Eslambolchi’s 3-part series on the internet of things.
Dr. Eslambolchi argues for an application-aware network (AAN) model to connect the world’s physical objects and sets up his argument by stating: “Once a century, a new industry revolutionizes the way we live. This century, that industry is the internet of everything (IoT).” He later says: “Comparable to how the introduction of hosting services dramatically changed the web, the AAN will generate a similar shift in how companies view networking. I do believe every company is beginning to change the game for customers by turning the network ‘inside out’ – creating a user-centered, application-driven network. This is unlike the model of the 20th century with the network being the core and application at the edge. I like to think of this as rotating the direction of thinking from application outward to networks that support it in both wireless and wireline businesses across the globe.”
There’s a good bit of futurespeak there, but Dr. Eslambolchi points to the inescapable fact that the application layer has grown immensely in size and response, and right now, manufacturers large and small can gain easy access into the IoT through the application layer.
If you’re coming at the conversation from the material side, application awareness and access might seem a bit complicated. The good news is that low-cost, high-value tools are available right now to connect web-enabled physical objects.
Let’s say you’re a manufacturer of a web-enabled object, or have plans to launch a web-enabled object like a garage-door opener, a fishing reel, a bicycle or a pedometer. An Application Programming Interface (API) is the logical networking choice right now. More and more companies are developing and exposing APIs. One reason is that public-facing production can be quite simple through a custom API that interfaces with any number of different platforms including phones, pads, desktop browsers and even social-media notification systems.
TxMQ typically recommends IBM API Management Suite for API exposure and management. It sits on top of IBM’s DataPower Appliances and not only handles the management of any API(s) you wish to expose, but adds a security layer as well.
Here’s a plain-language example. Let’s say you’ve just released a web-enabled garage-door opener. You’ve developed a use case whereby a homeowner is to be notified if the door opens any time between user-designated hours. You could craft a custom API to interface with mobile phones. You expose and manage the API, again with a security layer, entirely through the IBM API Management Suite. The solution allows you to offer smoother, more stable customer interface at the same time you slice development and monitoring costs within the smart-object market. And the big payoff comes during the next design cycle, when connectivity becomes your baseline principle – not an afterthought.
It’s one example among potential millions, but illustrates how small and large businesses need to connect their existing products starting today, and forward-engineer the interconnectivity of their products starting tomorrow.
Interested in learning more about the IBM API Management Suite and TxMQ’s custom API solutions? Visit TxMQ.com or send a confidential email to [email protected].
Click this link to read a previous TxMQ blog, authored last year by recruiter Corey Switzer-Kruss, about the IoT and the fourth industrial revolution.
(Photo courtesy of Flickr contributor GM)