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Avoid storage commoditization by making it about data: IBM

Infrastructure

LAS VEGAS – The key message to partners on day two of IBM Corp.’s PartnerWorld Leadership Conference was that infrastructure matters. Perhaps implied was the word still.

Hardware is still a big part of IBM’s business, particularly in the channel, and partners may have needed some reassuring after IBM’s recent decision to sell its x86 server business to Lenovo. It’s the latest IBM business to become commoditized and divested, following the 2005 sale of IBM’s PC business, also to Lenovo.

IBM’s global channel chief put it simply: infrastructure matters because business outcomes matter. And that’s how IBM wants partners to position hardware: not as boxes or mere infrastructure, but enablers of better business outcomes, and all the shiny software and services solutions that do get customers excited, and bring partners richer margins.

Take storage. On the surface, a good candidate to follow PCs and servers down the road to commoditization. How will IBM make storage sexy again? According to Carl Boisevert, vice-president of global storage channel sales for IBM, they’ll do it by changing the conversation. It’s not about storage anymore. It’s about data.

“One of the first things (IBM president and CEO Virginia Rometty) talked about in her keynote was about data and how it’s becoming a natural resource, and one that has to be refined. Within the storage brand right now we’re clearly seeing drivers around data,” Boisevert told CDN. “We don’t call it storage management. We call it data economics.”

It’s the ability, Boisevert said, to leverage the associated pain points customers are experiencing around data. CxOs view technology changes as a top threat to the stability of their business, including the unpredictable costs around managing big data and analytics as a competitive differentiator at a time they’re being asked to reduce costs. Rather than just letting clients throw boxes at a data problem and running into an OpEx/CapEx issue, Boisevert said partners need to have a discussion about the economics of different data storage models for different workloads and building the right architecture to manage their data. Always in the context of fueling better business outcomes through those analytics tools.

When it comes to building the channel capacity with the skills to have this data economics conversation, Boisevert said he has found IBM’s legacy and portfolio in flash storage has been a real advantage.

“We’ve found we’re bringing in a lot of new partners who are kicking the tires with us from a flash perspective, who happen to be HP or EMC partners,” said Boisevert. “They’re happy with them, but they recognize we have the best flash solution out there and a 30-year history in flash. Once those partners come onboard and we give them the love, we want to move them into (other IBM storage products) and build our base that way.”

IBM has brought in a number of programs on the showing the love front, particularly around leads and opportunities. One Boisevert points to is a new co-op selling model that, effective last month, sees IBM’s direct sales team co-selling enterprise accounts with the channel. With the exception of appx. 300 named accounts, all enterprise storage sales will need to be sold through partners with the co-sell model or IBM reps don’t get paid. Mid-market accounts are already channel-exclusive.