Rod Adkins is senior Vice President for IBM's $19 billion Systems & Technology group and has spent almost three decades at Big Blue. I sat down with him Wednesday at IBM's Smarter Computing event on Wall Street to get his take on a number of hardware issues, including the future of the mainframe, the Power7 roadmap, and the squabbling between HP and Oracle over Intel's Itanium platform. Here's what he had to say.
Good afternoon, Rod. Your mainframe sales were down 31% year-over-year in the fourth quarter. Is that cause for concern?
The reason for those numbers is that it was a tough comparison. Fourth quarter 2010 [when IBM mainframe sales were up 69%, following the launch of the zEnterprise], was our most successful quarter in the history of mainframe sales.
If you look at the mainframe, it's following its historical pattern. It's largely hardware and capacity placements, and then you get to the middle and back end of the cycle and it becomes a lot more software and microcode upgrades.
NASA this week switched off its last mainframe, an IBM z9. That wasn't a sign to you that the mainframe era may be passing?
We have clients that have decided to move to different models and we have clients that are embracing the mainframe model. NASA is an interesting one because one of the very first mainframe applications was the guidance system that helped put a man on the moon.
IBM exited the PC business in 2005, and some pundits argue that by the same logic, you should divest the x86-based System x line because it too has become commoditized. What are your thoughts on that?
We have clients of all sizes across many industries and we want to have the broadest set of capabilities. In some cases these clients want Intel-based products. Our approach is: how can we build the best Intel-based capabilities that are differentiated from others in the industry?
A lot of that know-how comes from our large-scale systems that we integrate down into System x. For instance, the ability to scale without compromising performance. Also, overcoming the per-processor memory limitations of the PC architecture. A lot of clients want to run in-memory-type applications. Our System x has the widest memory footprint.
Can you talk about the roadmap for the Power architecture?
Each generation gets more capabilities. Power7 introduced some really interesting features, such as the ability to have multiple personalities, where dynamically you could make the cores stronger for certain types of applications, or you could have more threads for other types of applications.
Some applications need stronger core performance, some are much more throughput-based. Power7 was one of the first microprocessors to deal with that dynamically. We also built in some interesting features like virtual memory, where the system thinks it has more memory than it has. You should expect the next generation [Power8] will incorporate even more features on the chip from the system. We introduce a new generation every three to four years, and Power7 launched in February 2010.
How will IBM, from a hardware perspective, participate in the tablet and smartphone revolution?
Part of our role is making sure the back-end infrastructure has the attributes to deal with different types of connected devices--to capture, manage, and store all of that data. Also, we have partnerships with some of the mobile participants, such as ARM, where we collaborate on design. We also partner with Qualcomm and others.