How IBM's Partnerships Could Again Transform Personal Tech Landscape

eWEEK NEWS / PRODUCT ANALYSIS: Since the advent of the PC in 1981, the world has pivoted to the cloud, and, in that world, we need a new-age terminal.

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I spent this week at IBM’s Strategic Partnerships Analyst Summit, and it was particularly fascinating for me. One of the many projects I’d had while working at IBM was to help fix its Partnership Program, and I wasn’t very successful. That was because IBM, at the time, was a closed shop; it didn’t partner well. It focused, like most companies, on the announcement rather than the execution, and it thought the only goal was to make money for IBM regardless of the partners’ needs.

But that was then, and after several decades IBM is a very different company. Its partner program is now a poster child for how to do this right, and while the company should take more effort to ensure that their partners’ views on partnering, customers, transparency and trust better match their own, it is one of the best in the segment.

Three of the partners brought to mind how IBM changed the personal technology landscape in the 1980s by creating the IBM PC. Back then, IBM partnered with Intel and Microsoft to create the iconic IBM PC and created an industry that otherwise would not have as effectively emerged. They did so by behaving in a very un-IBM way and partnering at least initially well.

I believe the reason their effort eventually failed was that, at that time, IBM partnered poorly. Well, that has been fixed, and IBM now has four partners who could help it again transform personal technology: Samsung, Cisco Systems, Google and Microsoft.

Let’s talk about that this week.

The New IBM PC That Isn’t a PC

Back during the IBM PC days, the world was still a mainframe world, and one of the reasons IBM’s effort eventually failed is because they initially wanted to turn PCs into terminals, which--and I managed one of the internal IBM deployments--sucked. They also locked down on OS/2 and went to war with first Microsoft and then Intel, which really, really sucked, but my point is they tried to turn the PC into something it would never do well. Terminals make better terminals than PCs ever did.

But, ironically, the world has pivoted to the cloud, and, in that world, we need a new-age terminal. So the very effort that IBM mistakenly made back in the early days of the PC--if you replaced the mainframe with the cloud (which could run a mainframe)--now might be ideal.

Samsung, BlackBerry, Qualcomm

Now Samsung has two interesting strategic partners themselves in Samsung and BlackBerry. Showcasing the BlackBerry partnership and in concert with IBM, they have created a solution for the German military that is fascinating. At the heart of the solution are BlackBerry SecuSuite and a double DAR (data at rest) implementation coupled with Samsung Knox. Double DAR is double encryption, and they claim a minimal performance impact. It should look like an updated version of the SecuSmart Galaxy Tab S.

Given the hostile environment in which we currently live and work, this may be the only solution at scale that is sufficiently secure to resist state-level attacks. Because we seem to be getting a ton of those and governments are holding companies liable for breaches, this level of security may soon be the minimum requirement for client devices in military, government, finance and health care. This configuration could form the beachheads for the solution to eventually move into the broad market, much like the IBM PC originally did.

Samsung also has Qualcomm as a partner for cutting-edge 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and Millimeter-wave for Ethernet quality wireless capability, and the combination creates what could become the template for a future universal connected PC-replacing tablet.

IBM, Cisco Systems

The back end could be Cisco 5G/Wi-Fi 6 centralized networking coupled with the secure IBM cloud to further secure and ensure transport. In this instance, the IBM cloud replace the mainframe, but IBM could use a cloud-based mainframe implementation, since mainframes like the IBM System Z stand out concerning I/O loading and might be uniquely capable of handling the resulting load.

IBM, Microsoft, Google

Android would likely run on the device, but the interface and active OS would be Microsoft Virtual Windows as hosted in the IBM Cloud. This combination would provide for a PC-like experience but with a connected architecture--not only ensuring the security of the solution but also reducing massively the need to administer the result by the user. IT would administer both through automated and manual tools, depending on the scale and the nature of the tools. The result would be something far closer to a terminal in terms of overhead and reliability but far closer to a PC in terms of user work experience--only with a vastly reduced security exposure and overhead.

And, given that all of these companies partner very well, there is very little likelihood of an OS/2-like war between any of the partners.

Wrapping Up

I think we are on the cusp of a new IBM PC-like product, but this time the partnership pool will be much larger, and the ability to partner between the players--and the integrity and focus of the partners--has significantly changed for the better. This offering will be a true multinational and multivendor effort that would have certainly failed in the 1980s but will succeed because all of the players are far better at partnering than they once were. Oh, and I should add, this will also likely be the closest to true PaaS (PCs as a service) than anything we have yet seen.

It could be really cool!

Rob Enderle is a principal at Enderle Group. He is a nationally recognized analyst and a longtime contributor to QuinStreet publications and Pund-IT.