The Smart, Connected Planet is at the Heart of IBM's Pulse 2010

The Smart, Connected Planet is at the Heart of IBM's Pulse 2010

Welcome to "the Decade of Smart."

That's how IBM's Al Zollar described the new decade to a crowd of several thousand IT professionals during the opening of the 2010 IBM Pulse conference here in Las Vegas this morning.

On stage under the rock-star lights and sounds of MGM's Grand Garden Arena, Zollar walked the crowd through what IBM is calling its Integrated Service Management (ISM) platform.

Aimed at nothing less than "optimizing the world's infrastructure," Zollar explained that ISM is an interconnected system that brings transparency, control and automation to the enterprise, with 20 industry-specific solutions already developed and more in the works. [Full disclosure: IBM paid my air fare and lodging fees to attend the Pulse event.]

Zollar explained the many threads of IBM's Tivoli service management platform, including tools to manage virtualized computing environments, data archiving and storage solutions, security management, and the sensors and monitors to oversee every piece of the puzzle on a single, integrated dashboard.

"IBM has invested over $6 billion in building and acquiring integrated service management capabilities," Zollar explained. "We are really serious about this."

While ISM as a platform was newly rolled out today at the event, it's the culmination of IBM's long strategic shift to expand from pure-play IT hardware and software into its "Smarter Planet," and initiative that aims to bring IBM's technological innovations and experties to bear on every aspect of the coming, connected world.

As part of today's rollout, IBM announced two major partnerships aimed at making the world's buildings smarter and more efficient. The first brings IBM together with Johnson Controls to create a Smart Building Solution that marries the expertise of the technology and efficiency giants to provide integrated building systems management on a broad scale.

The new offering will made it possible to improve operations, energy use and water consumption not only in a single building, but ideally in a portfolio of buildings, whether they are new or existing structures, the firms said in announcing their strategic partnership today in Las Vegas.

The capabilities of the ISM platform are expected to position the two firms even more strongly in the market to make buildings greener and smarter.

"This provides opportunities for some very large-scale projects," Clay Nesler, Johnson Controls' vice president for Global Energy and Sustainability explained in an interview today. "We can scale this up at a city level or a state level, and there is a lot of talk about smart grid and, of course, the grid is regional."

The solution will be showcased in a demonstration project in Europe, where IBM is a major customer of Johnson Controls' facilities management services, Nesler said.

In a press conference today, Zollar explained that the partnership builds on a long relationship between IBM and JCI that dates back to 2007, with the two companies working together to create more energy efficient data centers.

"This is a further integration of our technology with theirs," Zollar said, "in a way that allows organizations to achieve real improvements in the energy efficiency of their buildings."

From buildings as a whole to managing their interiors, IBM's second partnership today brings the company together with printer manufacturer Ricoh to apply smart policies to enterprise printing platforms.

The partnership will bundle a new device- and printer-management system with Ricoh hardware, enabling every office device with real-time tracking and monitoring systems. Once deployed, companies will be able to measure, manage and reduce the costs and wastes associated with excess or inefficient printing.

A recent study by Gartner found that companies with such smart printing policies and technologies in place can cut their printing costs by up to 30 percent.

Cities as the New Operating System

IBM's announcements today showcase how the comany is pushing for smarter buildings to become a cornerstone of their strategy to deliver smart urban infrastructure.

"We believe that smart buildings are critical to the long term environmental and economic sustainability of cities around the world," Rich Lechner, IBM's vice president of Energy & Environment, said during today's press conference. "This is not just about reducing waste," in wasted energy, wasted water, or the creation of waste, "it's about reducing greenhouse gas emissions as well."

And cities are the largest target in the climate fight: Buildings, and the energy they use for heat, light and cooling, are responsible for about 40 percent of the world's emissions today, and with the current skyrocketing of urbanization only expecting to increase, making buildings and cities more efficient is an urgent priority.

Lechner described cities as "the new operating system," and explained that that belief is at the core of the IBM's Smarter Planet initiative. Cities -- or universities, or corporations, or even homes -- are no longer unconnected, disparate elements, but rather must be managed as an interconnected whole.

{related_content}During the opening keynote session this morning, IBM Vice President of Strategy and Development Laura Sanders and her team walked the crowd through an in-depth example of how a smart city could operate, using Las Vegas as an example. With smart metering and centralized monitoring, city officials can get instant updates when problems occur, and can even get predictive warnings when systems like water, electricity or sewers may be starting to give way.

IBM has implemented projects of these types all over the world, with some recent, water-related examples being Galway Bay in Ireland and the San Francisco Bay. But now the technology is at a state that data collection can be incorporated almost anywhere, and IBM is positioning its Tivoli / ISM platform to lead the charge.

To drive home the high-level, global nature of the initiative, the closing speaker at this mornings kickoff keynote was former vice president and climate crusader Al Gore, who compared the ideas behind Integrated Service Management to human development: Newborn babies can recognize faces in ways that the most sophisticated computers couldn't achieve until very recently.

"Sorting through what's relevant and what's not in the vast amounts of data bit by bit, that's very hard," Gore told the crowd as part of his talk. "But if you have hardware and software that can sort through that and highlight the business decisions you need to make, well that's a good thing."

Although the scale of the global environmental challenges are only going to grow more complex, the Pulse 2010 event shows that the technology is keeping apace, and that companies like Johnson Controls, Ricoh, and IBM's many corporate, university and municipal clients and partners are helping to drive the Smarter Planet initiative around the globe.

GreenBiz.com editor Leslie Guevarra contributed reporting for this article.