Why Hardware Still Makes IBM Tick

Q&A: Rod Adkins, senior vice president of IBM's Systems and Technology Group, talks with eWEEK about the importance of IT systems at Big Blue.

Rod Adkins is senior vice president in charge of IBM's Systems and Technology Group, the company's $19 billion semiconductor, server, storage and systems software business. He was named to the job in October 2009. Adkins has held a number of product development, business operations and general management positions since joining IBM in 1981, including stints as general manager for desktop systems in IBM's Personal Systems Group, for UNIX systems in Server Group and for Pervasive Computing in Software Group. In 2002, Fortune magazine named Adkins one of the 50 most powerful black executives in America.

For this interview, Adkins spoke with eWEEK Senior Editor Darryl K. Taft on a variety of subjects, including competition with Oracle and Hewlett-Packard, how systems play into the overall IBM strategy and topics such as the IBM Smarter Planet initiative.

IBM has been experiencing share gains across the systems and storage markets, according to the major analyst tracking reports. What do you think is going on in the market?

I think the market is responding to the business value it sees in our capabilities for addressing their data center requirements. IBM was the world's No. 1 overall server vendor in 2009, according to Gartner and IDC, and we gained share points in both their tracking reports. In Unix, as the leader in the market, we added about 4.5 points of revenue share while HP and Sun [Microsystems] lost share. In x86, IBM experienced the largest revenue growth of any vendor in the fourth quarter-3.5 percent. It was IBM's fourth consecutive quarter of revenue share gains in x86. In storage, we outgrew the overall external disk segment in Q4 and passed HP to take the No. 2 position in the market. That's all according to IDC.

Why do you think IBM is taking share from the competition?

The world is changing. As the planet becomes more instrumented and interconnected, the amount of data and the number of transactions will continue to increase-driving the need for more real-time analytics and prediction capabilities. Every piece of data generated is a building block of insight that can predict what happens next. This is impacting virtually every system inside a company, a city, the world. This applies to health care systems, retail systems, financial systems, energy grids, supply chains-and to the world's data centers. Opportunities are unlimited, but resources are not. As a result, IT departments will process more transactions and manage exponentially more data. Yet they will need to do it more efficiently than ever, consume less energy and make the most of the existing floor space.

The need for a new definition of performance is becoming increasingly clear. And that's what I think is behind the momentum we're seeing in our systems business. We're not pursuing a strategy to drive more common PC parts into enterprise servers to gain our own operational advantages, like some vendors. We take a very client-centric approach. We believe it's the innovation you wrap around those parts and the deep integration and optimization between the hardware and software that can attack the pain points enterprises are seeing and their need for lower costs and better management. It boils down to three distinct advantages we have in our systems business: the combination of our deep understanding of client needs, a comprehensive systems portfolio and technology leadership.

Take our recently announced eX5 systems on the x86 platform. We had engineers at work for years to come up with an industry first-decoupling memory from its usual, tightly bound place alongside the server's processor so you can dramatically scale memory in new ways and get much more out of the individual system. That is changing the economics of x86-based computing as we lead the way in re-engineering the 30-year-old PC server architecture. In addition to more cost-efficient use of memory, we've achieved technology breakthroughs in virtualization and energy savings. You heard these themes not just in the eX5 announcement, but also in February when we introduced new Power7 systems. Our Power7 systems ushered in a new category of performance for our clients. We call it "intelligent performance," rather than just raw speed, to manage billions of transactions in real time and analyze the data on the fly. This is key for emerging workloads like smart utility grids.

All this makes us unique in the marketplace. IBM's long-term strategy has been driven by our investments focused on innovation and integration. This is much more than being a vendor declaring a strategy based on a recent acquisition or declaring a strategy based on delivering commodity hardware through supply chain management. We've been at this for decades, and we're designing new integrated systems-from chip to end product to everything in between-optimized for a new generation of demanding workloads and to help our clients reduce their IT costs for existing workloads.