IBM's Sexy New Sports Car - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
12/11/2009
11:36 AM
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IBM's Sexy New Sports Car

IBM has announced a new chip that could help a supercomputer achieve 10 petaflops, which is calculating power tantamount to the speeds Nature uses to form bubbles in sea foam and keep planets in orbit.

IBM has announced a new chip that could help a supercomputer achieve 10 petaflops, which is calculating power tantamount to the speeds Nature uses to form bubbles in sea foam and keep planets in orbit.The IBM Blue Waters project will have its own structure to keep it from burning itself to a crisp when it starts crunching data for Boeing and other big corporate clients at the University of Illinois sometime in 2011.

I think it's more than a sexy sports car, however, and I'd apply its not inconsiderable computing prowess to far-out marketing ideas to improve and promote IBM's brand.

Technology is two-faced, in my book: on one hand, it's all about utility and providing mechanisms that outsource the travails of human work or tangibly enrich the experience of life. Technology is also completely theoretical...an idea or pursuit that can rival religion as it endeavors to help us unlock and explain the meaning of existence.

Most technology brands tend to rely on the former definition, whether apparent as consumer electronics or implicit like appliances, but I think they also hint at the latter: a new computer will let me send emails and manage my family photos, but it's also this strange gizmo that has within it the power to do more; Google is a technology services business that enables me to manage my documents in the cloud but, well, the cloud is this sort of abstraction that seems almost like magic; I judge my vacuum cleaner by how quickly it sucks up that lint particle on my carpet, but doing so allows me to devote more time to...ok, not all tech gizmos suggest a Higher Pursuit, but you get my point.

I wonder if IBM's professional services customers look for both qualities in their vendors' brands?

They must, or IBM wouldn't spend its time and resources on projects like Blue Waters, or on Deep Blue, that chess-playing computer from the 1990s. It's not in the charity business, expectations of corporate responsibility political-correctness aside, so it must expect that its clients and prospects become aware of its dabbles in advanced technology.

It's typical branding strategy to offer some high-end model, even if most people won't or can't buy it, simply to impart quality on the lesser, cheaper versions. My guess is that this is what IBM is doing with Blue Waters.

But considering the immense power of the darn thing I'd go to town with it. Embrace the outlandishly theoretical, edge-of-the-cosmos angle. Get past petaflops and other technobabble and make it into something far more engaging than a sports car.

How about annoucing that the computer will embark on projects like spelling the umteenth-gazillion names of God as specified in Kaballah mysticism? Could it distill SETI waveforms to jumpstart the search for extraterrestrial life? Think of the simulation possibilities; couldn't it calculate fast enough to mimic the creative process that invents each new nanosecond of reality? Blue Waters could claim to host the first "reality reality" game. It would make every MMORPG in existence seem like playing with sticks and cardboard boxes.

I'd do marketing in those terms, even if the gizmo will make its money doing work targeting ways to exploit credit card customers, or calculating weather for the NOAA.

There's so much cool technology going on these days, and so little cool promotion of it.

Jonathan Salem Baskin is a global brand strategist, writes the Dim Bulb blog, and is the author of Bright Lights & Dim Bulbs.

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