This is a writing sample by “nycghostwriter,” AKA Barbara Finkelstein. It is a news story published on “Selling for IBM,” the IBM Corporation intranet. You can get professional ghostwriting services from a business writer. Email me or fill out the short form on my contact page.

On Demand Business: Building the relationship

When clients don’t believe Linux is real, run it on something they understand.

Even if it’s a Sun server.

In his first conversation with Mass Mutual, IBM’s Lucian Lipinsky de Orlov offered to help the company’s tax-free income fund division get more power out of its Sun equipment. Lipinsky, business development executive for grid technologies in the financial services sector, saw Mass Mutual’s aging Sun box as an opportunity to introduce D. L. Babson, a Mass Mutual subsidiary, to IBM’s on demand Linux and eServer solution. Call it sly, call it sage, but call it a strategy that worked.

Pulling the plug on Mass Mutual’s Sun 6800 wasn’t going to be easy. A third-party consulting firm had written Fund Run, a mission-critical modeling application designed specifically to run on the equipment. The format was so inflexible that Mass Mutual had to create large chunks of redundant — and costly — code whenever it needed more capacity. Scalability questions were further complicated by the fact that the software developer “had dropped off the face of the planet,” as S&D grid architect Dipen Mehta put it. Mass Mutual considered piling more code onto a new Sun server, but that quick-fix would have sent the total cost of ownership sky-high. In any case, more horse power wouldn’t adequately solve the scheduling problems stemming from too many users using the same system at the same time.

Using Sun as a flashlight
Mass Mutual ‘s IT infrastructure was screaming for an on demand grid solution, says Mehta, and that’s exactly what Liliana Gutierrez recommended to her client. As client manager, Gutierrez was responsible for developing Mass Mutual ‘s relationship with IBM — an occasionally difficult relationship that had become, at best, vendor-customer. “But one of the advantages of having worked with the same client for a few years is that you begin to see when an opportunity is valid,” she says. Gutierrez suggested that IBM help Mass Mutual leverage its existing Sun hardware and then augment the system’s capacity with IBM blades and middleware from IBM partner Platform Computing.

The solution sounded reasonable to Mass Mutual — except when Gutierrez brought Linux into the conversation. “Mass Mutual had concluded that Linux was something they might do in two or three thousand years,” says Gutierrez. “The client was simply not comfortable taking a leading edge role in a technology it considered untested.” Moreover, Mass Mutual was reluctant to invest in teaching Sun-oriented administrators how to administer Linux on a day to day basis.

Build it and they will come
The team persuaded Mass Mutual to let IBM develop a short-term, economically feasible “proof of concept” project that would use a grid/Linux/blade architecture underneath its Fund Run application. “Our idea was to show that the investment Mass Mutual made in IBM hardware would lead to more capacity, better resiliency and greater business benefit over the long term,” says S&D’s Mehta. “Ultimately, of course, we wanted them to understand that they shouldn’t bother investing in Sun any longer.”

Now that IBM had won Mass Mutual over, the client team had to deliver the solution. More easily said than done. “Everyone, from the people at xSeries to the people at IBM Global Services, had a little bit of doubt,” says Scott Phifer, enterprise server manager (ESM) for xSeries. Suddenly an ad hoc client team was working with people from any number of different business units. Who was going to be responsible for communicating with Mass Mutual? The Global Services principal? The client manager? The ESM? Phifer summed up his team’s fears: “Could we trust people to really understand the technology? Or were we going to go through a pricing exercise for no good reason?”

Play nicely. The client likes that.
At least one thing was clear. The team had to turn to Global Services principal Lou Mosher, who would start assembling all the internal resources the team needed to complete the solution. “Here we were working on an on demand solution, and it occurred to me that on demand is forcing us to work together across different business units,” Mosher says. “If we do work together, we are definitely going to differentiate ourselves from our competitors.”

Mosher targeted Duane Quintern and Paul Giove, Integrated Technology Services (ITS) grid specialists. While they were excited to be involved in a project from the ground up, they were unfamiliar with blade technology and were nervous about working with it. Quintern and Giove got up to speed by working nights and weekends with the technology in their home basements. In the end, their expertise was key to making Mass Mutual’s grid solution work.

Going the extra mile
The real crunch came on the day Dipen Mehta walked into the office of business development executive Lipinsky and beheld 240 boxes, each containing the various pieces necessary for building a blade server. “I spent the next 16 or 17 hours putting these things together,” he says. “It was a nightmare.” After managing to build 13 of the 40 blade servers, Mehta was practically a candidate for physical therapy. With his grid specialists living in different parts of the U.S., he ended up calling
on teammate Robert Hintze and his son Robbie for help. “The three of us sat for the next 12 hours building blades,” he says. Mission accomplished.

Unravelling the snafus
Quintern and Giove began testing the clustered servers at the customer’s site. After many episodes of trial and error, they were ready to declare the project a success. They scheduled a power-down and returned the next day to fire the system back up. “Surprise,” says Quintern. “Nothing worked.”

Meanwhile, client manager Guttierez was fighting the battle against “Blue tape.” It took some serious escalations to get approval for the time Quintern and Giove were putting into the project. Given the urgency of the job, approvals should have been easier to get. “At each one of those decision points, it was a little frustrating,” says Guttierez.

The ITS grid specialists needed another week to locate the problem, but by then Mass Mutual was elated with the results: a projected 60% reduction in cost and and a 50% improvement in performance. The upshot: The Fund Run application could perform many more scenarios, or “runs,” thereby helping Mass Mutual’s financial analysts better estimate the value of its municipal fund portfolio.

Says Gutierrez, “I think Mass Mutual knows that IBM is making a difference for them. We’ve had on demand-based discussions with the client about components, or what I would call ‘shared services.’ Two or three years ago, Mass Mutual would never have thought of asking IBM for thought leadership in this area. The same is true about the infrastructure side. It’s wonderful to see that Mass Mutual is using us as a standard for working with anyone else in other projects.”


About David L. Babson & Company

Founded in 1940, D. L. Babson & Company is one of the oldest investment counsel firms in the U.S. It has more than $78 billion in assets under management and offers a wide range of investment products tailored to suit client needs.

The Babson tax-free income fund seeks income exempt from federal income tax. The fund ordinarily invests some 80% of assets in municipal securities. At least 90% of the fund’s municipal bonds must be rated A or higher. The average weighted maturity ranges between 10 and 25 years. Most securities purchased by the fund have maturities longer than five years.

A subsidiary of Mass Mutual Financial Group, D. L. Babson is based in Cambridge and Springfield, Massachusetts.

What is grid computing?

Grid computing allows companies to utilize numerous machines to perform a process or run an application, acting as a single machine. It can reduce the cost of hardware by improving utilization rates while increasing compute power without the need to add new CPUs.

Adoption has so far primarily been among companies that run compute-intensive applications such as those used in financial analysis and medical research.

— From “Survey: Interest in grid computing grows,” ComputerWorld, 6 January 2004 (subscription)


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