IBM hasn’t been shy about its shift of focus from platforms and systems to cloud, mobile, analytics, and cognitive computing. But it didn’t hit home until last week’s release of 1Q2016 financials, which mentioned the z System just once. For the quarter IBM systems hardware and operating systems software revenues (lumped into one category, almost an after-thought) rang up $1.7 billion, down 21.8 percent.
This is ugly, and DancingDinosaur isn’t even a financial analyst. After the z System showed attractive revenue growth through all of 2015 suddenly its part of a loss. You can’t even find the actual numbers for z or Power in the new report format. As IBM notes: the company has revised its financial reporting structure to reflect the transformation of the business and provide investors with increased visibility into the company’s operating model by disclosing additional information on its strategic imperatives revenue by segment. BTW, IBM did introduce new advanced storage this week, which was part of the Systems Hardware loss too. DancingDinosaur will take up the storage story here next week.
But the 1Q2016 report was last week. To further emphasize its shift IBM this week announced that it was boosting support of OpenStack’s RefStack project, which is intended to advance common language between clouds and facilitate interoperability across clouds. DancingDinosaur applauds that but if you are a z data center manager you better take note that the z along with all the IBM platforms, mainly Power and storage, being pushed to the back of the bus behind IBM’s strategic imperatives.
DancingDinosaur supports the strategic initiatives and you can throw blockchain and IoT in with them too. These initiatives will ultimately save the mainframe data center. All the transactions and data swirling around and through these initiatives eventually need to land in a safe, secure, utterly reliable place where they can be processed in massive volume, kept accessible, highly available, and protected for subsequent use, for compliance, and for a variety of other purposes. That place most likely will be the z data center. It might be on premise or in the cloud but if organizations need rock solid transaction performance, security, availability, scalability, and such they will want the z, which will do it better and be highly price competitive. In short, the z data center provides the ideal back end for all the various activities going on through IBM’s strategic initiative.
The z also has a clear connection to OpenStack. Two years ago IBM announced expanding its support of open technologies by providing advanced OpenStack integration and cloud virtualization and management capabilities across IBM’s entire server portfolio through IBM Cloud Manager with OpenStack. According to IBM, Cloud Manager with OpenStack will provide support for the latest OpenStack release, dubbed Icehouse at that time, and full access to the complete core OpenStack API set to help organizations ensure application portability and avoid vendor lock-in. It also extends cloud management support to the z, in addition to Power Systems, PureFlex/Flex Systems, System x (which was still around then) or any other x86 environment. It also would provide support for IBM z/VM on the z, and PowerVC for PowerVM on Power Systems to add more scalability and security to its Linux environments.
At the same time IBM also announced it was beta testing a dynamic, hybrid cloud solution on the IBM Cloud Manager with OpenStack platform. That would allow workloads requiring additional infrastructure resources to expand from an on premise cloud to remote cloud infrastructure. Since that announcement, IBM has only gotten more deeply enamored with hybrid clouds. Again, the z data center should have a big role as the on premise anchor for hybrid clouds.
With the more recent announcement RefStack, officially launched last year and to which IBM is the lead contributor, becomes a critical pillar of IBM’s commitment to ensuring an open cloud – helping to advance the company’s long-term vision of mitigating vendor lock-in and enabling developers to use the best combination of cloud services and APIs for their needs. The new functionality includes improved usability, stability, and other upgrades, ensuring better cohesion and integration of any cloud workloads running on OpenStack.
RefStack testing ensures core operability across the OpenStack ecosystem, and passing RefStack is a prerequisite for all OpenStack certified cloud platforms. By working on cloud platforms that are OpenStack certified, developers will know their workloads are portable across IBM Cloud and the OpenStack community. For now RefStack acts as the primary resource for cloud providers to test OpenStack compatibility, RefStack also maintains a central repository and API for test data, allowing community members visibility into interoperability across OpenStack platforms.
One way or another, your z data center will have to coexist with hybrid clouds and the rest of IBM’s strategic imperatives or face being displaced. With RefStack and the other OpenStack tools this should not be too hard. In the meantime, prepare your z data center for new incoming traffic from the strategic imperatives, Blockchain, IoT, Cognitive Computing, and whatever else IBM deems strategic next.
DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst and writer. Please follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog. See more of his IT writing at technologywriter.com and here.