IBM has consolidated its networking capabilities into a single business unit and is talking publicly about its strategy, after a long period of silence.
Just don't say the company is "relaunching" its networking.
IBM was a networking leader back in the 90s, the era of Mom jeans, Seinfeld, and M.C. Hammer. The company sold its routers and switches to Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) in the late 90s, at about the same time it sold its Advantis networking services business to AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), which still supports IBM's internal networking. IBM dispensed with its top-of-rack switches much later, as part of a deal that saw Lenovo Group Ltd. (Hong Kong: 992) take over its x86 server business in January 2014.
Later that month, rumors swirled that IBM was on the verge of selling its SDN business unit. (See IBM's SDN Poser.)
That didn't happen. But IBM hasn't had much to say about networking in the intervening 14 months, referring to it in the occasional modest partner announcement but otherwise keeping mum.
Until today, that is, when it announced it would open two proof-of-concept labs -- which IBM is calling "Network Innovation Centers" -- in Nice, France, and Dallas, Texas, "where clients can explore Software Defined Networking, virtualization and analytics-driven [network] automation technologies and services," IBM said in a statement.
We took the opportunity to jump on the phone with IBM network services VP Rick Qualman, VP networking services, to find out what the company's been up to, networking-wise.
Until the beginning of the year, IBM did not have a single organization for networking. Networking resided across multiple organizations within IBM.
"That's why a lot of people thought that we weren't in the networking business. Because it was spread out across IBM," Qualman says.
In January, IBM consolidated networking services into a single business line, with several thousand staff, underneath the Infrastructure Services organization.
IBM is focusing on providing integration services for Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Juniper Networks Inc. (NYSE: JNPR), Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) and other vendors' equipment. "We don't have a legacy business we need to protect, and can help clients know which technologies are ripe for which environment," Qualman says.
About 60% of the IBM networking business is enterprise, focused on using VMware NSX in the data center, with 40% carrier business, with PoCs around virtual CPE, firewall and load balancing. One PoC is about how enterprises can use technologies delivered by carriers to move workloads between clouds including Amazon.com Inc. (Nasdaq: AMZN) Web Services and IBM's own SoftLayer.
IBM's customers are looking to move to early deployments in the second or third quarter, Qualman says.
Reorganization, new messaging… sounds like a relaunch. Qualman balks at the phrase. "It's a refocusing of IBM's networking mission," he says. "We had a fairly large business that we now have a single organization to drive strategy and messaging around."
Whatever you call it, IBM is back. It remains to be seen whether the company will be a big fish in networking, or if it will sink beneath the surface again, silent and invisible, for another long period.