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IBM revamps network unit around Watson AI

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INTERNATIONAL Business Machines Corp. (IBM) is revamping its Global Technology Services division, which helps customers run their computer networks, to rely more heavily on artificial intelligence (AI).

The new AI-capability will help IBM’s customers minimize disruptions such as server outages or switching malfunctions by predicting problems before they occur and automatically taking corrective action, such as brokering additional cloud capacity or rerouting network traffic around bottlenecks, Bart Van Den Daele, general manager of IBM Global Technology Services in Europe, said in an interview.

The product offering, powered by IBM’s Watson cognitive computing platform, will enable the company to maintain its market share in IT network infrastructure management, Van den Daele said.

New York-based IBM has been struggling to pivot from reliance on older products like computers and operating system software and into higher-growth areas like AI and the cloud. It’s facing stiff competition from rivals including Microsoft Corp., Cisco Systems, Inc. and Alphabet, Inc.’s Google, who have also begun emphasizing artificial intelligence and automation in products that help customers manage their servers and networks.

Recently Microsoft announced a major reorganization of its global salesforce, in part to focus on selling AI-enabled products and services. Since becoming chief executive officer in 2012, Ginni Rometty has increasingly sought to integrate Watson — a suite of different artificial intelligence capabilities linked together — into all of IBM’s product offerings. She has done so in part because sales of its traditional products, which included hardware such as mainframes and servers that were physically located in customer’s offices, as well as the service contracts to maintain these systems, has been steadily declining.

The system also has the ability to understand IT helpdesk queries using natural language, meaning that it could take over much of the low-level work that a company’s IT support staff have to handle on a daily basis.




IBM trained its Watson-based IT infrastructure platform by feeding it data from more than 10 million past incidents, Van den Daele said. The system is now handling more than 800,000 incidents a month.

The new system, which has been piloted with customers including Danish banking group Danske Bank A/S, has already made improvements in network performance, he said.

“We saw a significant reduction of server incidents,” Jay Steen Olsen, Danske Bank’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. He said the IBM platform would “help us act before an incident occurs and move us closer to an integrated, automated and always-on environment.” — Bloomberg