Wednesday, August 29, 2012
IBM Ecosystem: $1 billion Drives 40% Profit
This type of leverage is the key behind Apple and Google / Samsung success. It will be hard for their competitors to fight ( Apple vs. Samsung: Not Really an Apple Win ).
I.B.M. Mainframe Evolves to Serve the Digital World
By STEVE LOHR August 28, 2012
I.B.M. is introducing on Tuesday a new line of mainframe computers, adding yet another chapter to a remarkable story of technological longevity and business strategy.
The new model, the zEnterprise EC12, has strengthened the traditional mainframe’s skill of reliably and securely handling vast volumes of transactions. That is why the mainframe is still the digital workhorse for banking and telecommunications networks — and why mainframes are selling briskly in the emerging economies of Asia and Africa.
The new models have added capabilities for computing chores that are growing rapidly, like analyzing torrents of data from the Web and corporate databases to predict consumer behavior and business risks. Name a trend in corporate computing — cloud computing, data center consolidation, flash-memory storage, so-called green computing — and I.B.M. executives point to tailored features in its mainframe that deliver the goods.
The death of the mainframe has been predicted many times over the years. But it has prevailed because it has been overhauled time and again. In the early 1990s, the personal computer revolution took off and I.B.M., wedded to its big-iron computers, was in deep trouble. To make the mainframe more competitive, its insides were retooled, using low-cost microprocessors as the computing engine.
Like any threatened species that survives, the mainframe evolved. It has been tweaked to master new programming languages, like Java, and new software operating systems, like Linux.
“The mainframe is the most flexible technology platform in computing,” said Rodney C. Adkins, I.B.M.’s senior vice president for systems and technology.
That flexibility is a byproduct of investment. The new I.B.M. mainframe, according to the company, represents $1 billion in research and development spending over three years.
I.B.M. has also invested beyond its corporate walls. Nearly a decade ago, fearing that its mainframe business would wither if retiring mainframe engineers were not replaced, I.B.M. went out to universities, advocating for mainframe courses and offering support. Today, more than 1,000 schools in 67 countries participate in I.B.M.’s academic initiative for mainframe education.
The sale of mainframe computers accounts for only about 4 percent of I.B.M.’s revenue these days. Yet the mainframe is a vital asset to I.B.M. because of all the business that flows from it. When all the mainframe-related software, services and storage are included, mainframe technology delivers about 25 percent of I.B.M.’s revenue and more than 40 percent of its profits, estimates A. M. Sacconaghi, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein.
The I.B.M. mainframe story offers a glimpse of why manufacturing can be crucial to an American company — and to the economy as a whole — even though high-end manufacturing does not employ large numbers of factory workers.
Over the last 15 years, I.B.M. has aggressively globalized its operations and work force, and pulled out of manufacturing businesses including personal computers and disk drives.
But I.B.M. held on to its core mainframe business, whose development is supported by thousands of engineers and scientists. Mainframe parts are produced in I.B.M. facilities in the United States, in Endicott, N.Y., and Fishkill, N.Y., and in Germany and elsewhere. The final assembly work is done in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where I.B.M. opened a $30 million mainframe plant in 2010.
A mainframe costs more than $1 million, and higher-performance models with peripheral equipment often cost $10 million or more. Yet even young companies and emerging nations, analysts say, find the expense worth it for some tasks.
Comepay, for instance, is a fast-growing company that says it operates more than 10,000 self-service payment kiosks in Russia, where consumers pay for products and services ranging from Internet service and cellphones to electric bills. Comepay handles millions of transactions a day, and the volume is rising. The Russian company bought an I.B.M. mainframe in 2010.
“Mainframes are extremely reliable,” said Ruslan Stepanenko, chief information officer of Comepay. “It keeps working even when the transaction load is very high.”
Last year, the Senegal Ministry of Finance bought two I.B.M. mainframes to help monitor all the imports, exports and customs duties at the African country’s 30 border checkpoints.
Performance, security and reliability were the main reasons for selecting the mainframe, said Momar Fall, a manager and mainframe technical specialist in CFAO Technologies, an I.B.M. partner in Senegal. But another advantage in a developing nation, he said, is that the mainframes are constantly communicating over the Internet with a remote I.B.M. support center.
“So seven days a week, 24 hours a day, I.B.M. is looking after them,” Mr. Fall said.
Longtime mainframe customers say the technology has done a good job keeping up with the times. Last year, Primerica, a financial services company, purchased its 19th mainframe in 30 years.
David Wade, chief information officer, has worked for Primerica, based in Duluth, Ga., since its first mainframe arrived. With more than four million life insurance customers and more than two million investment-account clients, he said the company needs the reliable processing technology of the mainframe. “It works like nothing else,” Mr. Wade said.