IBM (NYSE: IBM) is striving to connect the dots between Big Data solutions, PureFlex hardware and managed services providers (MSPs). A panel at IBM PartnerWorld Leadership Conference explored that topic in depth. Associate Blogger CJ Arlotta and I were on hand for the discussion, taking notes, asking questions and drawing some conclusions. Here's a recap.

First, a little background: Most of IBM PartnerWorld Leadership Conference, this week in Las Vegas, focuses on mobile, cloud, social and Big Data analytics. Another key theme is IBM PureFlex systems, a converged storage, compute and networking alternative to VCE (from VMware, Cisco and EMC).

Please note that I've paraphrased a lot of information below. Exact quotes have quotation marks.

1. Ed Abrams, VP of IBM Midmarket Business, moderated the session.

2. Phil Simon, influencer, author and speaker on Big Data:
  • There's no single right way to do big data.
3. Jacob Braun, CEO of Waka Digital, an IBM Business Partner:
  • "The way we see it in the mid-market: Clients have a lot of structured and unstructured data. They are looking to foster better customer relationships based on that data."
  • When we're looking at a vendor we're looking at choosing a true partner that can deliver a cohesive solution. And the vendor's staff has to be accessible for strategic and tactical conversations.
  • In terms of converged infrastructure, where the systems are deployed really depends on the customer conversation.
4. Charles Weaver, president of MSPAlliance:
  • MSPs are at a variety of maturity levels. Big Data has been an analyst-driven conversation. SMBs are focusing more on the fundamentals of data management. Then there's the other extreme like the Cheesecake Factory that needs to manage a lot of data. You need to get to the maturity level, as an MSP, that makes you appeal to the Cheesecake Factory type of customer. (Side note: Cheesecake Factory is a case study here at the conference.)
  • In terms of the more mature MSPs, they are running away from commodity applications like email and running toward IaaS and anything private-cloud enabled.
5. IBM's Andy Monshaw:

  • More and more of the basic services are commoditizing. Where the MSPs can retain value is to wrap services around them. Email shifts to mobile services, for instance.
  • Monshaw evangelized IBM's PureFlex systems (converged storage, compute and network) as a rapid time-to-value solution for MSPs.
  • IBM has roughly 90 net-new MSPs running PureFlex systems. I didn't catch the timeframe for when those deployments occurred.
  • Today, the MSPs are buying and deploying in the MSP data center then offloading the peak bursts into third-party clouds like IBM's.
  • "We have not seen MSPs as a route yet in terms of PureFlex being installed on-premises at customer sites. But traditional VARs are consolidating customer workloads on-premises" using PureFlex, he added.
  • Applications are a driver for PureFlex as well. VDI solutions involving IBM working with VMware, Citrix and Virtual Bridges are one family of examples.

MSPmentor's Spin

Yes, Big Data opportunities and PureFlex systems (or alternative converged infrastructure) will appeal to a certain MSP segment. But I think IBM is going to have to do a ton of education about Big Data in the MSP market, especially when most MSPs are not yet experts in business analytics -- the precursor to Big Data solutions.

Also, PureFlex systems and converged infrastructure can speed data center deployments and application launches. But here again, this will appeal to only a certain MSP market segment. Mid-market MSPs may stay in the data center business, but most smaller MSPs will likely plug into third-party data center providers.