IBM Asks Channel To Embrace Linux, Flash, And Software-Defined Storage

IBM closed out its global partner conference Wednesday by encouraging its channel partners to sell a variety of hardware systems, anchored by Linux and hardened by a comprehensive security portfolio.

Tom Rosamilia, senior vice president of IBM Systems, told attendees of the PartnerWorld Leadership Conference in Orlando that a number of cutting-edge systems, including the z13s entry-level mainframe introduced the previous day, would empower IBM partners to be the disruptors in the market.

Competitors are coming at partners from all sides, Rosamilia warned, and the most dangerous are those that aren't even considered to be competitors. That's the nature of digital disruption, he said.

[Related: IBM's Rometty Slams Competitors With 'Yesterday's Business Model,' Spotlights Cognitive Era As Future Disruptor]

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On Tuesday, IBM unveiled the z13s, a stripped down version of the z13 mainframe that Big Blue debuted last year. That mainframe is the first tailored to mid-market and small businesses.

The z13, a system for large customers such as banks and airlines, was the first mainframe capable of simultaneously running analytics while executing transactions, IBM told CRN, and the z13s inherits those traits.

And LinuxONE, a version of the z13 devoted exclusively to the open-source operating system, creates unique opportunities for partners to focus on the Linux ecosystem, he said. IBM is adding Canonical's Ubuntu Linux distribution to compliment the current Red Hat and SUSE options that have been available for many years.

"This is the fastest-growing operating system and platform in the world right now," Rosamilia said of Linux. "We've embraced it on all of our platforms, all of our software, all of our solutions."

Mainframes aren't the only way to embrace Linux.

"When we pivoted toward Linux, we also made a profound pivot to open up to the ecosystem," Rosamilia said.

Rosamilia said partners should also pay attention to blockchain, which he described as the fastest-growing Linux project ever.

Blockchain, which creates a consensus ledger of digital events, has applications that extend well beyond Bitcoin, the digital currency with which the technology has become closely associated.

At least one partner whose CEO has long been familiar with IBM sees the future with Big Blue - and is encouraged.

Dan Pompilio, founder and CEO of Atlanta-based SimpleC, a cloud-based startup developing mental health care systems, is building cutting-edge solutions on Big Blue's platform.

Pompilio worked at IBM until 1992. But the company hosting the conference is almost unrecognizable from the one that employed him decades ago, at least as far as its solutions portfolio.

"The one thing that's similar is the hardware," he said. "But what's dissimilar is how open it is."

Coupled with Linux, OpenPOWER, the open-source project around IBM's microprocessor architecture, offers an alternative to the x86 ecosystem, Rosamilia told partners.

One of the most-disruptive technologies IBM has been advancing is software-defined infrastructure, he said. IBM has led the software-defined storage market for the last two years.

Another "bold play" for partners is selling flash storage, Rosamilia said.

Spinning disks are in decline, while flash will present a $20 billion opportunity by 2019, Rosamilia said, adding that partners "who sold flash had a wonderful year."

Pompilio has moved all of SimpleC's technology to IBM's cloud. But before making that shift, he worked closely with the on-premise systems.

"I have been there, and I'll tell you the strategy they're deploying on these Linux systems, the idea that it's so open you can run these different products on it, that's a big deal," Pompilio told CRN.

Most vendors try to block different software solutions from their systems, but IBM is encouraging a broader ecosystem.

The LinuxONE, especially, creates entirely new opportunities by providing a mainframe that can be continually updated. "It's a single serial number and you can keep jacking it up without replacing it. That's a smart strategy and it's particularly in the Linux area they've been doing that," he told CRN.

The z13s was another surprise because of the number of different operating environments the mainframe can support.

And Pompilio agreed with IBM execs that flash storage is another differentiator for partners.

SimpleC offers media-based therapies to seniors, and needs to attach to large databases.

"Some of that you can hold in flash," he said. "It's like a special-purpose capability. That really speeds up the ability to one of our therapy engineers to develop a therapy."

"All these things are a very positive evolution," Pompilio said.

Especially security, which is vital to companies working in the health care space, he told CRN.

Meanwhile, Denis Kennelly, chief product officer for IBM security, told partners that security isn't only essential in protecting their customers, but it's an expanding business opportunity

IBM's security business is growing 12 percent year over year, with 27 percent of that revenue coming through the channel.

IBM offers a broad portfolio of solutions that protect customer data at every level and by every method on the market, Kennelly said, a breadth of technology that constitutes an immune system of sorts. He encouraged partners to directly demonstrate to customers Software-as-a-Service tools that analyze their environments.

And in the spirit of the transformation IBM has been talking about for the last two years, the security solutions are evolving to be cognitive.

"Watson is learning security as we speak," he said of IBM's cognitive platform, which the vendor sees as a key to its future..

That cognitive analysis will enable systems to glean security information form untraditional sources, such as blogs and other unstructured data.

IBM recently launched the IBM Security App Exchange, an online marketplace "at the very heart of what I talked about in terms of the immune system," Kennelly said. Twenty partners are actively building out security applications, and more than 100 are being developed internally at IBM, he said.