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IBM Z’s relevance will persist in the digital world

Software abstraction converges ICT onto single platforms

Software-defined networking essentially virtualizes the last leg of the three-cornered compute, storage and networking stool. Similarly, the software abstraction makes compute and networking mere workloads on the compute instance. Vodafone’s (Nasdaq: VOD) customer case study at Think 2020 addressed this integrated data and networking construct being delivered from one cloud computing architecture. New terms are now being coined to talk about the various compute form factors rapidly coming into view. Edge computing, edge cloud and fog computing all seek to describe new compute instances being deployed closer to humans and connected machines that will drive economic and social activity in the digital age. A single cabinet Z, therefore, can become the converged ICT install at the department and branch level. Carry out several more form factor reductions, and the concept of Z at the edge does not seem so far-fetched or beyond the realm of IBM (NYSE: IBM) engineering to achieve.

Form factor miniaturization comes to the Z; is Z at the edge on the horizon?

Most people unfamiliar with Z view it as a “behind the glass” monolith in need of air-cooled rooms and water-cooled architectures. Z now comes in standard 19-inch rack cabinets, with the first air-cooled model introduced this year at Think 2020. IBM aims this form factor at SMBs and startups, each of which represents new markets for Z. This design enhancement is the latest of many innovations IBM has brought to the Z architecture in recent product cycles.

Chapter 2 of the cloud, as IBM defines it, will be the unlocking of enterprise data for distribution throughout a hybrid multicloud world. Distributed, ubiquitous computing might flip the axis on the business considerations and technology applications for risk mitigation as the frictionless movement of data among and between enterprises becomes the norm, but it does not signify the death knell of the mainframe. If anything, this new computing architecture requires a virtual custodian and traffic cop for data security and for dynamic identity access and management. Recent design enhancements to the venerable Z architecture, coupled with bringing the Red Hat developer community to Z, have the potential to defend and extend Z’s market relevance far into the future.

Webscale competition increases among carrier cloud providers

Combined Cloud as a Service revenue for telecom operators in Technology Business Research Inc.’s (TBR) 2Q18 Carrier Cloud Benchmark rose 26.3% year-to-year in 2Q18 due to strategic acquisitions and alliances, investments in new data centers, and portfolio expansion in growth segments such as SaaS and hybrid cloud. All benchmarked companies sustained year-to-year Cloud as a Service revenue growth in 2Q18 as significant opportunity remains for carriers to target businesses seeking greater cost savings, scalability and efficiency by migrating traditional infrastructure and applications to the cloud.

Certain Asia- and Europe-based operators including China Telecom, Telefonica and Orange accelerated Cloud as a Service revenue growth in 2Q18 as the companies benefit from data sovereignty laws, such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), requiring cloud data to be stored in local data centers, which is slowing the growth momentum of U.S.-based webscale providers in these regions. Pressure from U.S.-based webscale providers will continue to increase over the next five years in Asia and Europe, however, as they ramp up data center investments and partner with local data center providers to gain traction in these regions.

Graph showing total Cloud as a Service revenue and year-to-year revenue growth for benchmarked carriers in 2Q18

 

TBR’s Telecom Practice provides semiannual analysis of Cloud as a Service revenue in key segment splits and regions for the top global carrier cloud operators in its Carrier Cloud Benchmark. Operators covered include Bharti Airtel, British Telecom, CenturyLink, China Telecom, Deutsche Telekom, Korea Telecom, NTT, Orange, Singtel, Telefonica and Vodafone.

Telecom operators drill down on IoT opportunity in logistics

Despite the hype to the contrary, in commercial Internet of Things (IoT), not all verticals are created equal in terms of opportunity. There is near-term opportunity in some verticals, while opportunity in other verticals will take a few years to mature. The verticals with the longest and deepest histories of using IoT are oil and gas, utilities, manufacturing (including automotive), and logistics. Because these verticals have a long history of using primitive IoT, mostly in the form of telematics, customers in these areas are more familiar with what IoT can offer, how it can be applied to their businesses and where measurable ROI can be found. Unsurprisingly, segments that have most experience with IoT continue to generate the greatest amount of IoT-related revenue.

Telecom operators were early to advertise that they were leaders in the verticals mentioned above. However, now that the chips are down, TBR believes operators are focusing on real, mature IoT opportunity, leading to them drilling down on logistics. Logistics aligns well with telecom operators’ capabilities due to the mobile and distributed use cases. Verticals such as manufacturing provide less opportunity to telecom operators due to the more static and condensed nature of factories. Here are some examples of commercial logistical moves from leading operators:

  • In March 2017 Verizon announced the combination and rebranding of its Verizon Telematics, Fleetmatics and Telogis acquisitions into Verizon Connect. Verizon notes that the rebranding completes the integration of its connected vehicle division with its acquisitions of fleet and mobile workforce management companies Fleetmatics and Telogis. TBR believes the rebranding of Verizon’s telematics businesses into Verizon Connect was a smart move because focusing its IoT business around connecting mobile workforces differentiates Verizon, letting customers clearly know what they can use Verizon Connect for, highlighting its expertise and also making it more partner-friendly. Verizon Connect is now a module that can enhance a broad IoT platform such as Azure IoT.
  • In May 2018 AT&T entered into a partnership with operational technology (OT) behemoth Honeywell to develop IoT solutions for aircraft and freight deployments worldwide. AT&T delivers Honeywell worldwide connectivity, and Honeywell gives AT&T a larger door into industrial engagements.
  • In February AT&T launched two comprehensive solutions with Geotab’s fleet tracking platform, AT&T Fleet Management for Enterprise and AT&T Fleet Management for Government, to provide customers with a holistic view of their transportation assets to improve costs, productivity and safety.
  • TBR believes Telefonica, Vodafone and Orange are also competing for logistics engagements using well-populated landing pages touting their ability to provide logistics-based IoT solutions. Orange, for example, signed a three-year multimillion-euro agreement with Finland-based Cargotec in 4Q17 to codevelop an IoT-based cargo solution.

While vendors will compete for logistics business opportunities worldwide, TBR believes Verizon will try to consolidate and win share of the field service and trucking industries in North America; AT&T will focus on air and sea shipping or asset tracking worldwide and leverage its advantage in connected car gained through multiple contracts with leading automakers; and Telefonica, Vodafone and Orange will battle it out for EMEA and LATAM share.