The Pure Thing

Published by: Srini Chari

Yesterday, I watched from the comfort of my home office, IBM’s PureSystem “Unveiling of a New Computing Era” announcement in New York City. After the initial background business discussion by Mr. Steve Mills – Sr. Vice President and Group Executive for IBM Systems and Software, the curtain was lifted by Mr. Rod Adkins, IBM Senior Vice President, Systems and Technology Group. At that very instant, with a wide grin, Steve made a comment that I am paraphrasing, “Unlike software with systems, you can actually see the real thing”. When the curtain was lifted, there stood that gleaming blue PureFlex system. This sparked a train of thought that gelled this morning under this spring’s cool Connecticut sun during my customary jog in the park.

What is a Thing?

During my spare time and sometimes to get a real good night’s sleep, I read. One book that does an admirable and efficient job of “accelerating the time to deep slumber” is entitled “What is a Thing?, by Martin Heidegger, one of the greatest 20th century philosophers. I’ve had the pleasure to be about 1/3 the way.

But this morning, reflecting on Steve’s comment, I thought: What is IT (information technology) today? Why is the word “Pure” so relevant? What does this all mean? This created an energizing stream of shedding “thought-vortices” whose trajectories like their fluid mechanics counterparts are difficult to model and predict much less tame and transcribe. But here is where Martin and some reflection come to rescue.

Material and Abstract Things

You see – a system like the PureSystem is something that you can see, touch, and feel. It’s a material thing. Data (even BigData) you cannot see, touch, or feel. But then you can visualize data through software. Software is not a material thing (actually like data it is an abstract thing) but it makes a material impact especially when grounded and optimized on a material thing like a system and then used to solve a business or scientific problem.

Likewise, mathematics (one of the most abstract things) has its profound impact when its “purest” form is applied to solve the challenging problems of the day especially those that have a material impact, for example, the impact of shedding vortices on aircraft operating performance or the calculation of the best available airfare between two cities. All this is of course done in software that runs on a system.

The Everything and Nothing Route to Profound and Pure Insights

But perhaps the most abstract thing, philosophy, and the philosophers who pursue these thought-vortices may take “this thing (whatever that thing is)” and argue that it’s nothing. Just as their other philosopher colleagues could argue that it is everything. That is the duality of zero and infinity. For instance, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle was once asked how he was able to come up with such profound insights. It is rumored that Aristotle answered that he sat in a room and opened all the windows and an avalanche of thoughts came flying into his head which he then curated and came up with profound “pure” insights. That’s BigInsights from BigData.

Contrast this with Buddha who sat in total isolation and completely “emptied” his mind of all thoughts and meditated and came up with yet another set of profound and “pure” insights. That’s starting with a “clean slate”.

The surest (and perhaps purest) thing that I think I know is that I am. But do I really know that? That’s an entirely new and different question for another day.

When Aristotle (West) Meets Buddha (East) in the Cloud

I was told during the IBM PureSystems announcements that IBM worked on this initiative over the last four years; taking input and learnings from thousands of client engagements around the world and came up with this highly optimized, cloud and analytics ready family of systems and platforms. I was also told that the technical architects started with a “clean slate”. That is like marrying East with West to get the best of both worlds and this should be great for clients everyware!

Now lest I get fired from my day job of doing IT analyst work, I must move on to my next “thing” which is finishing up the white paper that my employer wants me to write! That is very material my dear friend! To my children – who read my blogs – note your survival and well-being depend on my finishing this next thing!

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