For IBM partners in 2014, Carlquist said, managed services opportunities represent a huge growth potential. He said IBM's commitment to invest more than $100 million in R&D on new big data technologies is paying off as well. Big data technologies can be leveraged on IBM servers including Pure, Power, System X and mainframes, he added.
So far, IBM partners are on the same page.
Ernie Yenke, president of Lighthouse Computer Services, a Lincoln, R.I. –based solution provider that works with IBM server and storage hardware and a broad range of IBM software and security products, said he's upbeat on the changes he's seen at IBM.
Lighthouse Computer Services is seeing an increase in sales of IBM's PureSystems converged systems servers. "We think that's a big opportunity," he said, noting that company already has sold "a lot" of the systems, without disclosing specific numbers. Lighthouse Computer Services has a number of sales and technical support personnel certified to work with PureSystems, he added.
As IBM turns over more of its midmarket and even large-company accounts to channel partners, it is creating opportunities for larger, regional solution providers such as Lighthouse Computer Services, Yenke said. "There are some real big customers on that list," he said. "We're spending a lot of time with IBM lobbying for those accounts."
Yenke is generally upbeat on changes IBM has made to its channel program in the last year or two. IBM now guarantees a minimum 12-point margin on data storage product sales, he said, and now pays fees to solution providers that perform IT assessments for prospects, even if the solution provider ultimately doesn't get the deal. "I think IBM has done a great deal with the channel in the last couple of years," he said.
IBM's cloud ambitions, meanwhile, are lofty and its investments have been extensive, with 12 recent acquisitions such as WebDialogs, Diligent Technologies and most recently SoftLayer. The company said it's working with 1,700 partners on cloud computing projects and 3,000 more MSPs focused on cloud-based projects.
But despite the impressive growth in its cloud business, cloud remains a challenge. IBM recently lost a high-profile $600 million cloud-based system contract with the Central Intelligence Agency to cloud rival Amazon.
IBM's biggest challenge in 2014, DiDio said, will be to shake its image as an entrenched 102-year-old industry goliath and work hard to be seen as agile and ready to compete with nimble newcomers and the Amazons and Googles of the world.
RICK WHITING contributed to this story
PUBLISHED NOV. 27, 2013