IBM rejoins the pre-integrated IT systems party

IBM is the latest mega-supplier to jump on the pre-integrated hardware and software IT system bandwagon. 

IBM is the latest mega-supplier to jump on the pre-integrated hardware and software IT system bandwagon. 

IBM has introduced a category of server appliances dubbed PureSystems, which provide pre-integrated hardware and software to simplify IT deployments and management.

With PureSystems, IBM appears to be heading back to old school computing. The idea of pre-configured systems went out of fashion with open systems and Windows. But, with IT spending in decline, suppliers are struggling to get a bigger share of diminishing IT budgets. Hardware and software manufacturers are increasingly opting for a more proprietary approach to selling their products as vertically integrated systems in a bid to win a larger systems contract.

Pre-integrated PureSystems

IBM said the PureSystems is designed to tackle IT budget constraints, given that studies show IT departments spend  70% or more of IT budgets on simple operations and maintenance, leaving little to invest in innovation.[

A recent study by IBM found that only one in five corporate IT departments are able to spend the majority of their IT budget on innovation.

IBM claims PureSystems can handle twice as many applications compared to some IBM systems, doubling the computing power per square foot of data centre space, thanks to technology it calls "scale-in" for pre-integrating components.

PureSystens also provide what IBM calls "Patterns of Expertise", where the systems automatically handle basic, time-consuming tasks such as configuration, upgrades, and application requirements, IBM said.

IBM is attempting to optimise applications for PureSystems. It has partnered with 125 software providers to make their applications PureSystems-certified. The certification will enable PureSystems to sense and respond to the needs of the running applications and services and make decisions on how best to deploy IT resources while ensuring efficiency, performance, and control.  IBM said thousands more applications are in development. It plans to build a commercial software “app store” for businesses.

As part of a competitive upgrade scheme IBM said its Global Asset Recovery Services can buy back servers, including those made by HP and Oracle, for businesses migrating to IBM PureSystems.

The results of $2bn and four years of R&D, PureSystems is designed to provide businesses with an alternative to today’s enterprise computing model, according to IBM. Rather than integrate multiple and disparate systems that require significant resources to set up and maintain. IBM claims PureSystems integrates the server, storage and networking with automated self-management.

PureSystems is cloud-enabled, supporting self-service private cloud infrastructures that can scale up and down automatically, IBM said.

Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive, software and systems at IBM, said, “By tightening the connections between hardware and software, and adding incomparable software know-how, PureSystems is designed to help clients to free up time and money to focus on innovation that many businesses cannot address due to ever rising costs and staffing needs in the traditional data centre.”

Commenting on the news, Pierre Audoin Consultants said PureSystems aims to deliver pre-integrated IT infrastructure out-of-the-box. "This speeds up and simplifies installation and maintenance." Regarding the Pattern of Expertise technology, Pierre Audoin Consultants, believes the automated management tied in with application-specific management capabilities from application software developers, could speed up the implementation of new business applications of all kinds on the system.

Pre-integration from a single source

The mega suppliers, namely, HP, IBM, Oracle, Cisco and increasingly Dell are all at it. Oracle, now a hardware supplier thanks to its acquisition of Sun Microsystems, offers a database appliance through Exadata, which is optimised to speed-up database queries. SAP is coming in at the application level with its in-memory database, HANA. Cisco, HP and Dell are also selling pre-integrated private cloud servers, storage and network infrastructure.

Adrian O’Connell, research director at Gartner says these more integrated IT systems, offer the suppliers a way to sell more to their customers. “All the vendors are packaging the systems together and integrating more parts of the technology stack together,” he said. However, O’Connell sees a clear trade-off in terms of supplier-lock-in versus business benefits. “These integrated systems may offer some performance improvements or simpler IT management. They break down silos between computing, storage and networking. This is all well and good, but users do not want to move from technology silos to vendor-based silos with IBM stacks and Oracle stacks.”

Commenting on PureSystems, he said, “IBM is late to the party,” although it does offer a mainframe-based private cloud product in its zEnterprise System with zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension (zBX) configuration, capable of running zOS, Windows and Unix workloads.

Oracle offers Exalogic and Exadata, while HP sells Cloudsystems, integrated private cloud infrastructure and AppSystems, for applications.  Dell has vStart, an integrated infrastructure for deploying VMs, while Cisco sells Unified Computing and Servers (UCS).

Gartner categorises these integrated systems as “Compute Fabric”.

  1. Integrated infrastructure eg PureSystems and vStart from Dell
  2. Integrated platform like Oracle Exalogic, IBM SmartCloud and HP CloudSystems with built in management for private clouds
  3. Integrated applications integration from hardware to application, like Oracle Exadata, HP AppSystem and SAP HANA

While there are many differences in how each supplier’s approach delivers computing and efficient IT provisioning, O’Connell believes the mega suppliers have set their sights on winning strategic customer accounts.

IT management challenges

Neil Eke, data centre solutions director at Computacenter said he was seeing a significant amount of interest from customers looking at the opportunities of deploying pre-integrated systems. Rather than relying solely on the mega-supplier, he said IT departments have worked closely with Computacenter, due to the complexity of the product they plan to purchase. This is because pre-integrated IT systems represent a departure from the discrete data centre equipment purchases IT departments would previously have been accustomed to. “The choices companies have to make are more complex. IT departments also need to assess how the pre-integrated IT infrastructure fits in with their IT infrastructure.”

For instance, IT departments may be organised around specialists for network, storage and servers. ”With pre-integrated IT systems you need multi-skilled IT managers.”

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