IBM Pulse 2011 was a low key affair, announcement-wise, compared to past events. Attended by nearly 7,000 people– a record for this event– tracks and sessions were plentiful, while major announcements were somewhat sparse. Instead of glitz, however, it was clear that IBM Software has spent the past year building a foundation for new ways of delivering and managing application environments. The Cloud announcements earlier this quarter were part of the story, as was a new focus on cross-domain, “DevOps-ready” products.

Foundations aren’t “sexy” until you’ve had a few buildings topple. Many of today’s companies are coping with the fallout of product investments that can’t support the towers of dominoes that have become today’s business applications. From this perspective, perhaps a low-key event is exactly what the industry needs.

Watson– the one missing attendee that all of us were waiting for – was notably absent. Watson captured the imagination of the entire country across three Jeopardy games in which IBM’s analytics-backed ”avatar” shellacked the human competition. Aside from comments indicating that healthcare would be the next focus area for Watson’s massive analytical capabilities, IBM did not capitalize on what could have been a captivating theme.

Analytics WAS a key message, however, particularly in terms of one of IBM Software’s “sweet spots”, Integrated Service Management. IBM continues to invest heavily in cross-product integration and in applying advanced analytics to the “End-to-End Business Infrastructure & Service Chain”. EMA has written extensively, for example, about IBM’s extension of Tivoli Information Technology Monitoring/Management to business applications such as RFID and “Smart Planet” initiatives such as power optimization– AND about integrations between Rational and Tivoli.

EMA sees analytics as intrinsic to the evolution of enterprise management products going forward. Advanced correlation and heuristics technologies are critical enablers for reducing the human footprint required for problem determination and root cause analysis in application environments. These environments are so complex that, in many cases, issues are solved with “workarounds”– reboots, etc. — versus root cause analysis. As a result, the problems just keep coming back– “Intermittent problems with no apparent cause” are today’s #1 application support challenge.

IBM’s combination of advanced analytics and tools integrations across the cradle-to-grave Software Lifecycle distinctively position the product line to address ITSM, DevOps, and problem resolution. These were the topics of discussion at two sessions in which I participated.

Along with Jamie Thomas, Vice President of Tivoli Strategy and Development, Harish Grama, Vice President of Rational Development, Delivery, and Support, and Dhiraj Gupta, a Capgemini manager, I spoke at the kickoff for the Service Design and Delivery Track. The theme was “Agile Operations”. While Agile Development has reduced the intrinsic risks of large-scale software development projects, it can create shock waves for Operations organizations incapable of absorbing Agile’s accelerated rate of change. This session described the characteristics of Agile Operations, how IBM is addressing the agile enterprise, and gave some real world examples of how companies are evolving towards more agile operational practices.

The second session was entitled, “DevOps: What, Why, and How?”, and focused on the growing role of DevOps teams and the tools they require. DevOps is a buzzword that has emerged over the past few years to describe the cross-domain support teams cropping up in today’s IT enterprises. Such teams exist in more than 50% of U.S. IT organizations. Known by various names– Infrastructure Services teams, Architecture groups, Centers of Excellence, or Application Support teams, for example– DevOps is an effort to improve application delivery and support by combining development and operational skills.

While this is definitely a step in the right direction, the point of my presentation was that integrated toolsets, combined with advanced analytics, are the third leg of the “people, process, technology” triumvirate necessary to deliver high quality applications at the lowest price point.

Viewing IBM’s pulse announcements from this perspective puts a very different spin on a “low key” event. For IBM, the past year has been a time of consolidation and integration, positioning IBM very distinctively for integrated ITSM, including DevOps support, going forward.

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