IBM Impact 2012 – Las Vegas
During 201, before moving on I was an Enterprise Architect within CSC Consulting based in Perth, Western Australia. I was also the Australian Lead for SOAsure, CSC’s global SOA service offering. Through CSC I was fortunate enough to get an opportunity to attend IBM Impact.
Although they are a competitor, IBM is also a CSC Global Alliance Partner, and CSC is an IBM Business Partner so we need to keep close. Over the past few years whilst at CSC I have worked closely with IBM on a number of CSC pursuits and also through our global SOAsure alliance, and this year I had the opportunity to attend the IBM Impact 2012 Conference held in Las Vegas. IBM describes Impact as “The premier conference for Business and IT Leadership” and yes indeed it is a ‘BIG’ conference, being held over 5 full days, and with over 9000 attendees from over 60 countries. I was joined by fellow Australian CSC’ers Pete Merrick and Paul Cronin, and we hooked up with the IBM Australia delegation led by Alliance Partner Manager Jarrod Hughes.
About The Conference
This year the conference theme was Innovate, Transform, Grow. The amount of content was simply huge and just deciding what to see was a challenge as there were many parallel streams including a Forbes Business stream, multiple Technology streams, various Communities of Practice, a dedicated IBM Business Partner stream, and the ‘Inner Circle’ for Tier One partners and customers. The majority of the presentations (I read somewhere over 80%) were presented by either customers or the 900 business partners who were represented providing an element of balance and objectivity that provided for some fascinating insights on technology directions and industry trends. In between sessions the Solution Centre was the place to go – a vast exhibitors hall the size of a football field showcasing hundreds of solutions and business partners – including our own CSC stand, with a business partner cafe where you could just walk in for a 1:1 coffee chat with senior IBM solution, product and sales leaders, the live Impact TV station, and a significant social networking presence. Around the conference venue were lots of great geeky hang-outs including the WebSphere global community, Social networking centre, and the Developers ‘un’-conference where attendees set their own agenda!!
Big Themes and Ideas
Although daunting in the sheer breadth of content available the conference was actually thematically very strong and holistic, and this for me was a key highlight and one of the reasons I would definitely attend again (…especially if in Vegas but more on that later). A few constant themes and key messages kept repeating and morphing through different non-technical perspectives such as the consumer view and the business view. Many of the sessions were repeated ensuring you did get to see them and often the same presenters presented related sessions picking up on different aspects but reinforcing the same theme or big idea. I especially enjoyed a number of the deep dive sessions where the experts and evangelists got into engaging discussions such as ‘Stump The Architects’ So what were the big themes (well for me)?
Figure 1 – Lots of cores and lots of TBs or RAM
Hardware and Appliances
To be honest I am an Apps guy not a hardware guy, but sometimes in a big expo hall the sleek black boxes with flashing lights can be more interesting to look at than endless screens showing PowerPoint presentations or web-based software demos. At Impact I saw some very flashy lit up server interiors (see photo) that would have looked at home inside Dr Who’s TARDIS. More importantly these boxes were a tangible confirmation in the age of ‘virtualisation’ that advanced hardware/software integration in the form of ‘appliances’ has reached a new maturity point, to quote the Gartner Hype Cycle (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle) they appear to have reached “the slope of enlightenment”. A few years ago Oracle through its Sun acquisition moved into this space as an early leader with database appliances, now IBM are matching this capability with their own Expert Integrated Systems capabilities in the PureSystems (http://www.ibm.com/ibm/puresystems/us/en/productfamily.html) and the Z Series product range (http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/z/). These are appliances that come pre-configured with solutions that support a number of common application patterns (e.g. portal, web-transaction, BPM, analytics etc) and they come on hardware with very impressive tech specs – how about 608 cores and 9.8 Terabytes or RAM in your box? – also it is hardware that comes with built in ‘elasticity’ intelligence that allows it to expand out to share or access processing capability into the Cloud when required.
Figure 2 – Data Vs Voice Traffic Trend in PetaBytes
Mobility drives SOA, BPM and Big Data
My 10 year old son Elliott thinks a land-line telephone is something you just look at – after all why would he use it?. Elliott is no geek he is just a kid and like his friends uses Skype to videoconference all his friends for a Minecraft server session and he also ‘skypes’ via wireless using his iTouch (which is actually not a phone). In 2010 mobile data traffic exceeded traditional voice traffic, in 2011 smartphone shipments exceeded PC shipments by 78 million devices, by 2016 smartphones shipments are estimated to reach 1 billion, and 10 billion mobile connected devices are expected to be in use by 2020. The graph above tells the story (in Petabytes!!!) and old school telcos should beware. At Impact these stats set the scene for a keynote and a big theme which is the accelerated convergence, driven by mobile demand, of SOA, BPM, and decision support/analytics which is now bundled under the ‘Big Data’ tag. IBM wishes to work with its customers and partners through its Smarter Planet initiative (http://www.ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/?ca=v_smarterplanet) to demonstrate that the combined capabilities of IBM and Business Partners can help solve complex business problems. The smarter planet is instrumented, interconnected and intelligent and this means that “all kinds of activities can be made smarter, and more effective”. Across many sessions I got to see the latest and greatest in solutions that showed this convergence in practical ways – the ways in which clients will want us to assist them and for which we need to be ready. Accelerated value creation is a key theme for a smarter planet and IBM introduced a new accelerated mobile platform development environment called Worklight (http://www-01.ibm.com/software/mobile-solutions/worklight/) into the broader and now extended IBM Mobile Foundation. The acquisition of Worklight was only completed early in 2012 but already there were some showcase solutions on display at the conference. It will be interesting to watch how the Worklight integration into Mobile Foundation proceeds. Also there were lots of BPM solutions (via the now well-integrated and bedded down Lombardi acquisition). These solutions operate across and between organisations in seamless process flows that service consumers at endpoint smart devices. These user experiences are enabled by SOA based services that operate within and across technology platforms such that on premises hosted applications are integrated directly and in real-time with ‘As a Service’ applications hosted in the Cloud. So a consumer uses a smart device to execute a process that operates end to and across different organisations and using cloud based integration…
Cloud Based Application Integration
For me one of the most impressive new products on show at Impact was Cast Iron (http://www-01.ibm.com/software/integration/cast-iron-cloud-integration/). In May 2010 IBM acquired Cast Iron Systems, a privately held company that has specialised in the fast-growing technology area of connecting on-premise data and systems to software-as-a-service (SaaS) offerings and cloud-based computing platforms. More than just another software development platform, Cast Iron represents a new way to do integration, as an Architect it felt to me like a new ‘solution class’. During one of the deep-dive sessions an IBM solution evangelist said in a frank response to a question about the drivers for the acquisition that it simply allowed IBM to buy lead time to capture market share in this new critical emerging integration area, as it was felt that to catch up with only internal product development would take a minimum of 18 – 24 months. The concept of Cast Iron is very simple but hides an underlying elegance that makes the new ‘pattern’ of on-premises to cloud based integration clearly one of the next big things on the radar for any CIO. I remember 3 – 4 years ago the hype around Cloud adoption and the scepticism at the time, but see the reality in 2012 of the extent of serious enterprise Cloud deployments. In Cast Iron I can see the type of out of the box, software plug and play integration offered becoming as de rigueur to software integration as USB is to hardware connectivity. This cloud based application integration will clearly be a rich area for Architects over the next few years. Cast Iron provides connectivity to hundreds of cloud and on-premise applications, databases, web services, messaging systems and many other end-points using pre-built pre-configured integration. It allows customers to rapidly connect their hybrid world of public clouds, private clouds, and on-premise applications. Solution vendors or organisations that own bespoke applications participate by enabling their solutions to be accessed by providing integration services commonly referred to as Web APIs. Cast Iron provides open access to the full library of integration services and a development environment to allow new services to be built. The integration services are provided for solutions across various industry sectors. For example, a number of integration services are already provided for leading Healthcare solutions. I noted that iSOFT (now CSC Healthcare) did not feature and this is possibly an opportunity area for CSC both as an IBM Partner and as a Healthcare solutions provider looking to provide our solutions via ‘As a Service’ in the cloud. I would say Cast Iron rates a ‘watch this space’ recommendation.
Figure 3 – Man Vs Computer – Watson on Jeopardy
Expert Systems – The Commercialisation of Watson
I am not going to write about ‘Big Data’ but I could have written pages. After the first few days as I was getting a bit over ‘Big Data’ I decided to stimulate the mind with a few sessions on Watson which turned out to be fascinating and really represented another ‘big idea’ that is coming Watson is an artificial intelligence computer system capable of answering questions posed in natural language. It was developed by IBM’s Deep Question Answering project by a research team led by principal investigator David Ferrucci. Watson was named after IBM’s first president, Thomas J. Watson. Watson the computer is most famous for the first-ever man vs. machine Jeopardy competition between IBM’s “Watson” computing system and the show’s two greatest contestants (see middle contestant in photo). The technology underlying Watson analyzes the structure and wording of the question or challenge being investigated, and formulates an answer that it has the highest level of ‘confidence’ is correct. Watson answers ‘natural language’ questions, which can contain puns, slang, jargon and acronyms that must all be evaluated as part of Watson’s confidence in returning an answer. At Impact the sessions explained exactly how Watson works and how it ‘learns’ – interestingly it is not ‘connected’ to the Internet so when asked questions it relies on what it has learnt. The commercialisation of Watson is a major initiative within IBM and will occur across a number of industries commencing with Healthcare (https://engage.vevent.com/index.jsp?seid=25086&eid=556). Watson can be used in huge areas such as cancer diagnosis where “Watson’s ability to analyze the meaning and context of human language, and quickly process vast amounts of information to suggest options targeted to a patient’s circumstances, can assist decision makers, such as physicians and nurses, in identifying the best and most effective courses of treatment for their patients. In less than 3 seconds, Watson can sift through the equivalent of about 200 million pages, analyze the information, and provide precise responses. With medical information doubling every 5 years the need for advanced health analytic systems has never been greater. Watson is expected to serve as a powerful ally to the physician’s goal of improving patient care through the delivery of up- to-date, evidence-based health care”.
Viva Las Vegas
I had never been to Las Vegas and it was not really on my list of cities to visit but I think I will be back. Most people fly in and fly out over a weekend but spending a week there I really got an opportunity to have a look around. Las Vegas is full of amazing contrasts especially if you get away from The Strip and get to go to the original Las Vegas ‘downtown’. I recommend a walk to downtown through the ‘Naked City’ area which is the few kilometres between the Strip and Downtown. Its near Las Vegas Boulevard and Sahara Avenue heading towards the Stratosphere. It is full of tattoo parlours, pawn shops, wedding chapels, seedy motels, bars and taco joints – it’s the ‘real’ Vegas. Check it out using Google Streetview for an armchair taster. I asked a taxi driver when I was getting a taxi downtown to Frank’s Tiki Bar if it was safe? “As safe as any city in the world” he replied with a smile. I went wandering all over the place and got some amazing photos (see my blog).
If you get to Vegas I recommend checking out the following:
• take a walk past the big old abandoned (unbelievably) Sahara Casino once the haunt of Dean Martin and The Rat Pack
• check out the Freemont Experience at night especially all the original vintage neon signs
• check out the Atomic Testing Museum
• visit the world’s largest souvenir shop – you will find something for everyone there!
• have a look inside the Venetian Hotel at the indoor canals and St Marks Square and marvel at the stonework – I was expecting fibreglass not authentic crusty old Italian stonemasons handcrafting huge blocks of marble and granite – it must have cost a billion to build
• go out late to Gilleys Bar and BBQ western saloon or Franks Tiki Room and The Peppermills Lounge – two of the most authentic retro bars you will ever find, and go up high for amazing Vegas by night rooftop bar views from Ghost Bar and the Voodoo Lounge.
Figure 4 – Bumped into Leonard Nimoy on Freemont Street
Figure 5 – Robbie the Robot at the Atomic Testing Museum