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Global CIO: IBM Doubles Down On Red-Hot Optimized Systems

A management shuffle and pointed comments from IBM CEO Palmisano show the drive for optimized systems will accelerate.

With a strong endorsement coming directly from CEO Sam Palmisano, IBM is accelerating its commitment to the industry's hottest product trend—highly engineered and optimized hardware-software systems—by putting its hardware business under longtime software leader Steve Mills and planning the rollout of a slew of these purpose-built machines in coming months.

Even as the company is rolling out some major enhancements to its mainframe line and extending "mainframe quality of services" to its Power systems and x86 lines, those introductions were overshadowed by the significance of Palmisano's unmistakable assertion that IBM would place greater emphasis on optimized systems, and was willing to tightly couple its own hardware and software units by having the head of Systems & Technology group, senior VP Rod Adkins, report to Software group executive Mills.

Palmisano minced no words about that commitment in a memo to IBM employees describing the management changes analyzed insightfully by my colleague Paul McDougall:

"For example, we know that IT infrastructure performance is greatly enhanced when every element – from microprocessors and storage through operating systems and middleware—is designed and brought to market as tightly integrated, optimized systems," Palmisano is quoted as saying.

The significance of the move is that while optimized systems have been gaining some momentum among a handful of leading IT vendors—IBM and Oracle, along with Hewlett-Packard, SAP, Microsoft, SAS, and even EMC—the optimized approach has until now been seen as a narrow niche aimed almost exclusively at data warehousing and BI applications.

All that began to change with Oracle's success with its Exadata Database Machine—after 18 months on the market, it's now on an annual run rate of $1 billion—and will surely accelerate dramatically with this now-public and quite pointed statement from Palmisano.

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For CIOs and their IT organizations, the allure of these highly optimized systems is that they not only can deliver business performance superior to any heterogeneous system, but also can help IT teams get out of the business of spending huge amounts of time cobbling together mismatched and sub-optimal systems, and instead can focus their energy on higher-value growth and innovation initiatives.

As hardware chief Adkins said in a phone interview late last week during a discussion about IBM's rollout of some major enhancements to its zEnterprise line:

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