First things first

Before I dive in, a quick note that this will be the last full newsletter until April. I will probably publish a lighter issue next week, however.

IBM held its THINK conference this week, and used the opportunity to announce a litany of new products and partnerships, and to brag a bit about its Power9 systems. I can't possibly cover all the news, but here's a rundown:

Some of the cloud services and Watson Assistant seem like IBM playing catch-up (albeit a very necessary game of it) with AWS, Google and Microsoft. The Apple partnership is interesting, if only because (1) lots of people have iPhones and (2) IBM is really the only U.S. cloud provider that can partner with Apple on enterprise apps without a conflict of interest.

But what excites me here is the systems stuff, ranging from those tiny computers for tracking/securing goods to the POWER9+GPU system that IBM claims crushed a benchmark previously set by Google running TensorFlow on its cloud. Another major part of that latter story is the software library, called Snap Machine Learning, that IBM created. (They call it snap "because it trains models faster than you can snap your fingers" ...)

Looking past the usual issues with this type of record-setting performance benchmark (i.e., they're usually opportunistic and not necessarily apples-to-apples comparisons), I think it's important to not lose sight of the fact that IBM still has a core of really good researchers and systems architecture with POWER that seems to be picking up steam. And although I didn't catch any news about quantum computing coming out of THINK, IBM is one of the company's leading the charge there, as well.

Yes, Watson has a bad and well-earned reputation as a marketing ploy. Yes, IBM's last quarter was lauded not for record growth, but for the fact that it grew at all. Yes, IBM Cloud is a distant fourth place (I assume) after the big 3, in terms of users, scale and probably revenue (which is tough to gauge exactly everywhere but AWS).

However ... technology is changing fast and IBM has a lot of interesting pieces in place either in the lab or now making their way into production (I didn't even mention its early embrace of blockchain). Whether it can make the cultural changes and business changes necessary to capitalize on any of them is the trillion-dollar question, but more so than many of its "legacy IT" peers, IBM at least continually offers glimmers of hope that it can.


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