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