Despite its corporate struggles, IBM Systems, the organization that replaced IBM System and Technology Group (IBM STG) had a pretty good year in 2015. It started the year by launching the z13, which was optimized for the cloud and mobile economy. No surprise there. IBM made no secret that cloud, mobile and analytics were its big priorities. Over the year it also added cognitive computing and software defined storage to its priorities.
But it might have left out its biggest achievement of 2015. This week IBM announced receiving a major multi-year research grant to IBM scientists to advance the building blocks for a universal quantum computer. The award was made by the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) program. This may not come to commercial fruition in our working lives but it has the potential to radically change computing as we have ever envisioned it. And it certainly will put a different spin on worries about Moore’s Law.
Right now, according to IBM, the workhorse of the quantum computer is the quantum bit (qubit). Many scientists are tackling the challenge of building qubits, but quantum information is extremely fragile and requires special techniques to preserve the quantum state. This fragility of qubits played a key part in one of the preposterous but exciting plots on the TV show Scorpion. The major hurdles include creating qubits of high quality and packaging them together in a scalable form so they can perform complex calculations in a controllable way—limiting the errors that can result from heat and electromagnetic radiation.
IBM scientists made a great stride in that direction earlier this year by demonstrating critical breakthroughs to detect quantum errors by combining superconducting qubits in lattices on computer chips—and whose quantum circuit design is the only physical architecture that can scale to larger dimensions.
To return to a more mundane subject, revenue, during 2015 I reported the positive contributions z Systems made to IBM’s revenue, one of the company’s few positive revenue performers. It turns out I missed one contributor since it doesn’t track constant currency. If you look at constant currency, which smooths out fluctuations in currency valuations, IBM Power Systems has been on an upswing for the last 3 quarters: up 1 percent in Q1, up 5 percent in Q2 and up 2 percent in Q3. I expect both z Systems and Power to contribute to IBM revenue in upcoming quarters.
Looking ahead to 2016, IBM identified the following priorities:
- Develop an API ecosystem that monetizes big data and cognitive workloads, built on the cloud as part of becoming a better service provider.
- Win the architectural battle with OpenPOWER and POWER8—designed for data and the cognitive era. (Unspoken, beat x86.)
- Extend z Systems for new mobile, cloud and in-line analytics workloads.
- Capture new developers, markets and buyers with open innovation on IBM LinuxONE, the most advanced and trusted enterprise Linux system.
- Shift the IBM storage portfolio to a Flash and the software defined model that disrupts the industry by enabling new workloads, very high speed, and data virtualization for improved data economics.
- Engage clients through a digital-first go-to-market model.
These are all well and good. About the only thing missing is any mention of the IBM Open Mainframe Project that was announced in August as a partnership with the Linux Foundation. Still hoping that will generate the kind of results in terms of innovative products for z Systems the OpenPOWER initiative has started to produce. I hope they haven’t given up already. Just have to remind myself to be patient; it took about a year to start getting tangible results from OpenPOWER consortium.