Mainframe Branding Insanity

Prompted by IBM’s rename of “System z” to “z Systems,” last year’s “zWhat (or z/What??)” by Phil Smith III discussed IBM branding. Remarkably, that story is already out of date: With its July 2017 z14 announcement, IBM renamed the mainframe line yet again, this time to “IBM Z”—and yes, that’s a capital “Z,” for the first time.

It’s hard not to conclude that something odd is going on at IBM. With the stock price generally trending downward, with round after round of huge layoffs and reorganizations, with selling off and closing properties like Kingston and Somers, Big Blue is clearly undergoing a massive shift. Rumors that should seem ludicrous now seem plausible: mainframe manufacturing shifting to Hitachi; domestic headcount down to 25,000.

Yet through all this, IBM has chosen to spend time, money, energy, and brand recognition on … renaming things.

Not just “System z” to “z Systems” to “IBM Z” in the space of just over two years: no, they have also renamed DB2. Yep, it’s not “DB2” any more: it’s … wait for it … “Db2.” Perhaps there are a limited number of upper- and lowercase letters in the IBM marketing vocabulary, so uppercasing the “Z” required lowercasing something else.

The database rename, announced at the same time as the z14, is supposed to do … something. Benjamin Tao, VP, Worldwide Portfolio Marketing, IBM Analytics, IBM, wrote, in part: " … we have visually redesigned the Db2 brand. The modernization of “Db2” with a capital “D” and lowercase “b” places all emphasis on "Data"—your data. At the same time, the new design represents the elemental nature of Db2 (think periodic table) and connotes the fundamental importance of hybrid data management."

“Elemental”? How does someone (probably not Benjamin) write something like this with a straight face?!

This is technology, folks. All you do when you muck with names like this is confuse things. Worse, as part of this rename, a bunch of DB2-related products have new monikers, including reuse of the “on Cloud” name:

Old: IBM DB2 on Cloud

New: IBM Db2 Hosted


Old: IBM dashDB Enterprise for Transactions SaaS

New: IBM Db2 on Cloud

Hopefully, the same folks support these two products—otherwise they’ll spend the next few years transferring calls.

This renaming business is clearly getting out of hand. First Computer Associates renamed itself to just “CA,” and then to “CA Technologies.” There were reasons for both changes, but since everyone called them CA before, during, and after the renames, there really wasn’t much point, no matter what the marketing people thought.

Then Allen Systems Group renamed itself to “ASG Technologies,” stating “The new name represents a renewed focus on agility in product development, sales and customer service to better serve today’s fast-paced enterprise market”. Say what? OK, we all know that ASG has had internal troubles, and so perhaps this is another attempt to step away from the past—but when you rename yourself to a name that is really the same name, you completely fail to do that.

One more example: In 2015, Hewlett-Packard split into HP Inc. and Hewlett Packard Enterprise. This separated the consumer products—mainly PCs and printers—from the enterprise hardware, software and services. While that’s at least a coherent-sounding strategy, they again chose two names that are so close that, almost two years later, the trade press is still confusing the two companies. And HPE didn’t help itself when, after the split, they produced a slick TV ad that made sense only if you already knew about the split—and thus communicated precisely nothing.

Branding seems to have lost touch with anything resembling reality. These subtleties mean nothing to the customer; at best, they’re confusing. And stockholders deserve something better than having millions of dollars wasted on such folly.