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Flash Memory Summit: Marveling at IBM’s Staying Power

Comments(0)Filed under: IBM, flash memory, innovation, solid-state memories, Michael Kuhn, solid-state storage, flash memory storage, Jamie Thomas

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—Sometimes in this mile-a-minute business of ours, you have to sit back and reflect. Today, I'm thinking about 103-year-old IBM.

Most technology companies have a relatively short half-life, and few companies in general last a century. Author and business consultant Richard N. Foster used another gauge of staying power: How long companies last on the S&P 500 stock index. In 1958, a company could expect to stay on the list for 61 years. Today, the average is just 18 years, he found.

Creative destruction

But IBM has survived, adapted, and thrived somehow since William Howard Taft was president. It's not an easy feat for a large company with a lot of targets on its back.

IBM seems to have taken the motto of legendary Intel leader Andy Grove to heart: "Eat your young or someone else will."

Nowhere is this more true or astonishing than in flash memory. Why? Because IBM invented the disk drive in San Jose a half-century ago. For the past 20 years, flash has slowly munched into the market share held by drives, and IBM's been a part of that.

Jamie Thomas, a 25-year IBM veteran who oversees the company's enterprise storage business, spoke at the recent Flash Memory Summit here and outlined the transformation.

IBM has in recent years invested $1 billion in flash memory and flash-drive technology.

"Our innovation is full force around flash, and we're innovating not only at the chip level but we have a serious software and hardware engineering effort," she said. "There's an opportunity here for all of us to take advantage of what is a fundamental shift."

Big data

And that fundamental shift is around data—mounds of it. The world generates 2,500 petabytes of new data a day, which is "the new natural resource we have to harness," she said. About 80 percent of new apps include cloud delivery or deployment, and the mobile world (where 95 percent of the traffic is data) is revolutionizing business models and processes, she noted.

She added:

"We have to address the new consumption models, the need for intense application acceleration, and new data formats that are imposed by these formats around us."  

Flash storage's potential to transform is so profound it can reach into the C-suite because it affects not just storage strategies but corporate and data-center energy strategies as well.

Michael Kuhn, vice president of the IBM business unit that oversees flash technology, who spoke with Thomas during their joint keynote, noted that Sprint adopted IBM flash solutions not just to speed response times for customers (they replaced spinning disks with flash technology in all their global data centers and improved performance 45X); they did so to cut energy costs.

"With flash, they were paying 3, 4, 5 cents for every dollar they spent on power with spinning disks," he said.

IBM invented the disk drive in 1956 and nearly 50 years later sold its drive business to Hitachi. No doubt this was a tough decision, but great companies make tough decisions.


Brian Fuller 

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