IBM Partner Conference Highlights Hybrid Infrastructure For Powering Cognitive Computing Workloads

IBM executives on Wednesday focused on the company's portfolio of hybrid infrastructure solutions, especially those designed to power cognitive workloads, to close out the PartnerWorld Leadership Conference.

Big Blue's strategy for winning in the enterprise infrastructure market has three prongs: cognitive systems, cloud, and industry expertise, said Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM Systems.

"This is our bible," Rosamilia told partners who gathered in Las Vegas. "Cognitive solutions built on a cloud platform, in an industry context."

[Related: From A Partner Program Perspective, IBM Says Its Cognitive Transformation Is Already Complete]

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IBM is a leading force in the private cloud and on-premises infrastructure markets. But conversations with clients need to start with the public cloud, Rosamilia said in his keynote.

"Every client wants to know how to get there," he said, even though many will realize it's not in their interest to fully migrate all their workloads to a public cloud environment.

That's where conversations lead to IBM's on-premises systems.

Those solutions, like all modern IT infrastructure, must be adept in handling advanced analytics and machine learning workloads, he said.

And a new generation of IBM servers, codenamed "Minsky," are designed to deliver the accelerated computing power required by cognitive workloads combining those technologies. Those systems complement IBM's POWER CPUs with GPUs, like those produced by Nvidia, or FPGAs like the ones developed by Xilinx—both companies part of the OpenPOWER foundation launched by IBM.

IBM's current systems portfolio is comprised of its line of POWER Systems servers, the Z Systems and LinuxONE mainframes, and its lineup of flash and software-defined storage products.

Beyond those systems, however, there's some cutting-edge stuff in the pipeline, Rosamilia told partners.

"One special area you're going to hear more about this year is quantum computing," he said.

That futuristic technology won't be available for resale by business partners anytime soon, he said, but IBM is making strides in developing quantum computing, which will enable computing tasks that are currently impossible.

Robert LeBlanc, senior vice president for IBM Cloud, updated partners as to progress on the cloud front, including Bluemix, a brand that has been expanded to encompass SoftLayer, IBM's Infrastructure-as-a-Service offering.

IBM's entire software portfolio is now available as a cloud service, LeBlanc told partners, hosted in the company's more than 50 data centers around the world.

The overall cloud business grew by 35 percent in 2016 to $13.7 billion in revenue. IBM's "as-a-service" offerings scaled by 63 percent, to $8.6 billion.

And IBM hardly cares about catching the industry leader in public cloud, he said.

"This is race for value, not a race for size," LeBlanc told partners. "Amazon is the largest, no question. We're not interested in being as large as Amazon."

To offer greater value, IBM recently evaluated more than a hundred customer RFPs, and discerned four general entry points to the cloud.

Those are customers who want to build new apps, connect new apps to other systems, optimize apps and services, and manage their infrastructure.

While most clients say the public cloud is "their destination," LeBlanc said, most of those business goals are actually going to need hybrid deployments.

"They have data, systems, applications that are going to need to hook into the public cloud," he said. Solution providers should think about cloud as "a platform to open up possibilities."