Two years ago, IBM shifted its strategy of serving the midmarket space. No longer would IBM try to sell its services directly. Rather, it started working exclusively with partners. Partners know their specific markets far better than IBM could, Monshaw admitted. Today's smaller businesses tend to address specific niches of some industry, and require domain-specific specialized skill sets to serve. "Our clients buy through local trusted business partners, and they buy an application experience. Very rarely will you hear someone say, 'I wanted my application to run on an IBM x86 server only,'" he said.
At the summit, IBM presented two businesses that have done business with IBM and its partners, and are now interested in moving some of their operations to the cloud.
One is Cherry Central, a Traverse City, Mich.-based cooperative that sells fruits and vegetables on behalf of farmers. The company contracted with IBM business partner N2N to deploy a food-safety monitoring program, which N2N built on IBM's DB2 Web Query running on an IBM Power System. At the summit, Steve Eiseler, Cherry Central vice president of operations, noted that the company, with only two IT staff, will probably move to a cloud-based service over time. The use of the cloud by most small businesses "is inevitable," he said.
Another customer who spoke was Ken LaVan, a partner of the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., law offices of LaVan & Neidenberg, which specializes in filing medical claims on behalf of U.S. military veterans. The firm worked with IBM partner Group Business Software to develop a wizard-style application, based on Lotus Notes, that could speed the intake process. Using its new application, the firm was able to speed its file claims process by 66 percent. If cloud services were available when this app was first created, then it would have been cloud-based, LaVan said.
IBM's moves to provide cloud computing to smaller businesses is unique, when compared to the cloud strategies of other big system providers such as Hewlett-Packard, said Gary Barnett, an IT analyst from Bathwick Group who attended the summit. Most of these system providers are not willing to partition off small portions of the cloud, such as a virtual server or two. IBM's prices are pricier than consumer-based services such as Amazon's, and will need to come down some more, but the move is one in the right direction, he said.