IBM Research and the experts that work in IBM's labs are transforming the way the company does business, especially within its Global Services and cloud computing portfolio. IBM is looking to bring its research know-how into its Smarter Planet initiative as well.
IBM's Robert Morris likes to think he
works in the world's largest laboratory.
However, unlike when he oversaw research at IBM's
Center or worked on the company's
ThinkPad notebook and its early hard disk drive storage systems, Morris' lab is
no longer confined within the walls of IBM
Instead, Morris and a number of other top researchers, mathematicians and
engineers within IBM are working to bring
their years of in-depth know-how into the real world through IBM's
Global Services Division. While IBM
started this initiative in earnest about two years ago
after its 2002
acquisition of PricewaterhouseCoopers, the company is pushing to expand its services
research into new areas, especially those of cloud
Smarter Planet initiative.
"All the things we're learning by applying science techniques, computer
science, engineering, mathematics and all those things, we are applying to
information technology," Morris, who is vice president of
Services Research, said in a recent interview with eWEEK.
"We're finding those are applicable in changing other services such as
health care, education services, government services and city services like
water, energy, traffic," added Morris. "So, it has been very exciting
[to go] from working in a lab and working on notebook computers and things like
that, and now we find ourselves helping influence how a city works or how
traffic flows in a city or how health care systems are delivered, all through
While many IT companies have services divisions, IBM
is one of the few applying the knowledge from its research arm to the practical
development of services for businesses and government, said Charles King, an
analyst with Pund-IT Research.
the reasons why software rules at IBM, click here.
the company tried to find a way to build and
package hardware and software for one company and then repackage it to sell to
"I don't know of anybody who is doing services research on the scale
that IBM is doing it," King said,
adding that IBM has since taken the IT
services framework strategy from PricewaterhouseCoopers and greatly expanded
"IBM is using these frameworks to
develop their services offerings," King said. "As IBM
builds these workload-optimized systems for financial institutions,
manufacturing, retail and so on, the storage and server and networking guys can
come in and build replica solutions with the services guys."
Services remain a huge source of revenue for IT companies such as IBM
and its competitors. In the first quarter of 2010, IBM's
Global Technology Services segment
pulled in revenue of $9.3 billion-a
year-over-year increase of about 6 percent-while its Global Business Services unit saw revenue of
While IBM is likely to face increased
competition in the services field from Hewlett-Packard,
thanks to its EDS business,
now that it has acquired Sun Microsystems,
King said IBM remains ahead of
the others in turning its research division into an engine for the other parts
of the business.
For now, the areas that IBM Services
Research are looking at vary, but many involve solving problems for local,
state and federal governments-a
major target for the Smarter Planet initiative
-and cloud computing.
One example is how IBM is working with
the Federal Aviation Administration to protect data that is moving through the
network. Morris explained that IBM engineers
developed a method of tracking data that is moving in a stream throughout a
network, whether it's a government network or a large enterprise.
Engineers can place sensors around the network that can detect unexplained
levels of data traffic that could be an anomaly or a DDoS (distributed denial
of service) attack.
IBM also uses its acquisition power to
bolster both the research division and its services portfolio. Recently, IBM
bought Cast Iron Systems,
which specializes in cloud computing services, and
while that acquisition is still being digested, Morris sees a way for IBM to
deliver to customers the research that its engineers have done on the
integration and composition of applications in the cloud.
"What is really powerful about IBM
is having software products behind it," Morris said. "So, having something
like Cast Iron Systems means that some of the latest work we have been doing in
composing Web services and cloud services means that we now have a way to
deliver them. We don't have to wait and build a product."
While cloud computing remains an area of IT that is still underdeveloped, IBM
Research and Morris are beginning to discover methods that can bring cloud
computing concepts into the practical world of day-to-day operations.
For instance, Morris
sees desktop virtualization
becoming the preferred method of delivering
applications to users, and IBM is working on
ways to use virtualization and cloud computing to better develop this new
In addition, IBM is working on ways to
incorporate new types of discovery technologies and other features that were
developed in the lab into its Tivoli
These can be used by the enterprises that buy Tivoli
software or by IBM if a company signs an IT
"If IBM takes over the IT
service ... we need to find all hardware and software out there,"
Morris said. "You find times when you have a data center and people are
not sure what applications are running, so people just pull the plug. What we try
to do is bring monitor and sensoring technology in that lets us trace
everything up to the application level. This is a major part of research and
how a company can transition to the cloud."