Thursday, September 21, 2006

Stallings, IBM: Savvy, not stodgy

This week I got the chance to talk to Jim Stallings, GM for IBM's mainframe division. He'd been on a virtual media tour in the past weeks, speaking with the likes of CNET and Internet News. He'd basically had the same agenda for most of these pubs. Why else would he schedule the interviews?. My challenge was to knock Stallings off of his script, otherwise I was looking at not just canned answers, but last week's canned answers.

So the first thing I said was, "You know, every analyst I talk to just gushes over the mainframe. Does that mean you've got the easiest job at IBM?" It's kind of dumb, looking at it now, especially in print. But it worked. Stallings said he felt like a gazelle or some kind of animal being stalked by lions in a National Geographic video. It didn't make the cut for the Q&A, but at the time it was the wildest thing I'd ever heard an IBM exec say.

That was until the next day when reporter Jack Loftus IM'd me a link to a YouTube clip, with the caveat: "This is not a virus". Huh. Seemed safe to me, so I clicked the link and found possibly the funniest mainframe joke I'd ever seen. Now, you might wonder, how many mainframe jokes could there possibly be? And the answer would surprise you. Tons. Mainframers think they're really funny.

But the YouTube video actually was funny. Very much derivative of the U.S. version of The Office -- but hilarious. The end quote "The mainframe: It's like a barn". Just great.

There are three videos and they all star IBM's director of mainframe sales (I'm assuming that's really him), teaching his staff how to sell the mainframe. Great stuff. Jonathan Eunice over at Illuminata picked up on it today as well.

It didn't take too long to jump to the conclusion that this was some kind of viral marketing campaign. And it's obviously working, since it's already in blogs, reporters are sending it to each other and it's popular on YouTube.

I was talking to Ari Entin, one of the PR gurus over at Bite Communications (they handle Sun Microsystems)about the videos and he was pretty interested in the ploy. He suggested I ask Stallings a follow up on whether IBM was going this route because traditional means like television are losing ground to new media, like YouTube. I emailed through IBM's PR agency and I'll update the blog if I can get an answer.

Alexandra Barrett, news director for our media group also had a follow up question that I'm waiting to hear back on. Stallings said IBM was willing to guarantee energy savings to customers that moved over to Big Iron from Intel. Is that going to be in writing? And will customers that don't save money get some sort of rebate from IBM?

Monday, September 11, 2006

ISR SprayCool M-Series photos







A couple weeks back I attended a partner event at ISR's SprayCool showcase facility in downtown Seattle. Patchen Noelke and the SprayCool crew had the guts of ISR's liquid cooling technology on display and let me get up close and personal. After that, we toured the Seattle offices and even got to play with the coolant, 3M's Fluorinert. I poured some on my hand and watched it disappear. Patchen said he thinks some of his engineers have drank it, just to prove how inert it is. But he doesn't recommend it. Check out our article on the SprayCool M-Series.

Photos: Matt Stansberry

Friday, September 08, 2006

Data center to feel the effects of mineral costs

This week reported that Emerson Network Power planned to increase prices for its Liebert line of data center infrastructure equipment. Emerson is laying the blame for the price hikes on materials costs. So I asked around and see if Liebert's competitors were experiencing the same pressure.

"Our industry has been dealing with significant increases in commodity prices, particularly in steel, lead and copper, for quite some time," said Chet Lasell, APC's director of public relations, North America. "APC absorbed these price increases and did not pass them along until recently when we increased prices on select products. We are aware that other vendors in the market have also taken similar action."

The folks at Wright Line had a similar take: "Wright Line has also experienced increased costs in both utilities and raw materials. However, we have worked very hard to maintain our pricing levels through cost reduction programs and improved manufacturing efficiencies." Mike Gagnon, VP of marketing.

And earlier this week, Caterpillar announced a 5%-7% price hike on its deisel generators for similar reasons.

Rich Miller at Data Center Knowledge had an interesting take on the topic. Miller said the bust serveral years ago flooded the market with used infrastructure equipment.

"That meant Liebert units could be found at attractive prices, which limited the manufacturer's pricing options. There was chatter at the time that Liebert even bought back some surplus units themselves just to reduce the inventory of below-market CRAC units. Times have changed. Between retrofits and 'greenfields' projects, there's another data center building boom underway. All those data centers will need to be cooled, which means lots of business for Liebert and APC (American Power Conversion) and their competitors."

It's a little like Exxon making record profits on the high price of oil.

But don't think these companies are just cashing in on demand. The commodities prices are actually going up. According to data from the U.S. Geological Survey, Mineral Commodity Summaries, January 2006, the price of Copper basically doubled between 2003 and 2005.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Data centers the HP-way

This week we ran some analysis of HP's massive data center consolidation project. I flew down to Palo Alto to meet up with the top brass at HP's campus. A reporter from InfoWorld and I were in attendence and we spent a lot of time talking about how HP sees the future of the data center shaping up.

The following week, I spoke with Kristi Browder, president of the HP user group Encompass. The organization is hosting the HP Technology Forum in a couple weeks and Browder said the data center consolidation is going to be a big part of the conversation at the event.

Beyond the specific data center consolidation project, HP is demonstrating a process-oriented strategy for helping customers deal with data center issues -- as opposed to a "solution-oriented" strategy (NOTE TO PR PEOPLE: I hate the word solution].

Sitting in that roundtable discussion a few weeks back, there was a distinctive lack of bullshit -- an uncommon occurance in many vendor meetings. HP is taking its own medicine, coming up with new ideas and the user base is really excited. And that's really good news for a company that seemed unfocused just 18 months ago.