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A Tour Inside IBM’s New Bluemix Garage

We got a look at IBM’s SoHo space, with tech demos on blockchain, Watson, machine learning, IBM’s new Z Server, and more.

By Rob Marvin

Keeping up with emerging technologies can be a struggle for businesses of any size. Investing in and adopting tech such as artificial intelligence (AI) or blockchain often isn’t feasible for a startup that doesn’t want to overextend finite development resources, or a large enterprise reticent about starting a drawn-out transition away from legacy systems. That’s why spaces such as Accenture’s Liquid Studios and IBM’s Bluemix Garages exist.

PCMag checked out the recent launch party for IBM’s newest Bluemix Garage in the SoHo neighborhood of Manhattan. According to Shawn Murray, Worldwide Director of IBM Bluemix Garages, the idea is to get enterprise teams out of corporate settings and into co-working spaces where they can move toward more agile development methodologies, try out new technology, and build a minimum viable product (MVP) or prototype application in 3–4 weeks.

“We’re technology-agnostic as long as it’s in the cloud. So, we’ll do a Watson app, a blockchain app, an IoT app…it depends on the client,” said Murray. “We’ll get them to give us, let’s say, 50 use cases, and we help them narrow down the right app they want to prototype and build.”

IBM set up the Garage last year within a Galvanize campus in SoHo (a network of co-working spaces for entrepreneurs, similar to WeWork) but last week marked the official opening. Murray said IBM will sometimes pair an enterprise customer with a startup working in the same space where a partnership might make sense.

The New York garage joins locations in Austin, London, Melbourne, Nice, San Francisco, Singapore, and Toronto as IBM expands the global footprint of its Bluemix Garage program. Murray said IBM plans to open 2–3 more garages this year in Latin America, the Middle East, and Europe.

“We purposefully are not in IBM buildings. In the US, we partner with Galvanize and in other areas it’s WeWork, etc.,” said Murray. “IBM tends to focus on large enterprise, Fortune 500-type of clients. But being in the community not only gives us a presence, it helps us connect startups to big companies. We’ve had a number of times where we’ve had a big enterprise client and said, ‘Hey, did you know there’s a startup here that does exactly what you’re trying to do?’ and [then we] partner them together.”

The SoHo location has the feel of a startup office by design. There are long arrays of bike racks, neon-lit booths, bright workspaces with avant garde furniture, and even a hallway with cushioned window nooks cut into the wall. We wandered around the space and checked out IBM tech that showed off different uses for the company’s cloud infrastructure and Bluemix developer tools, advancements in quantum computing and Blockchain-as-a-Service (BaaS), plus flashy demos and data visualizations on machine learning (ML), virtual reality (VR), and of course, IBM Watson.

IBM unveiled its new IBM Z mainframe to the world this week, featuring a breakthrough encryption engine that lets enterprises encrypt all of their data at all times, regardless of application, cloud service, or database. The company didn’t have an actual Z server on hand, but it made executives available at the Bluemix Garage opening to talk about the new end-to-end “pervasive encryption” tech.

Tired of desks? Curl up with a laptop in one of these cushioned nooks cut into padded windows along a Bluemix Garage hallway.

IBM Q is the company’s service making its quantum computing capabilities available to enterprises and developers via the cloud. At the Bluemix Garage, IBM had a VR experience set up to tour around its Quantum Computing Lab, which made a major breakthrough earlier this year by upping its quantum processing power from 5 to 16 quantum bits (qubits).

Grab lunch from the Bluemix Garage cafe and post up in one of these multicolored diner booths, complete with neon-lit porthole windows facing into the main demo area.

IBM showed off another VR demo as well, featuring an Ubisoft game but for a different reason. IBM Watson’s Speech-to-Text and Conversation application programming interfaces (APIs) power the game’s voice commands.

One of the most common services IBM provides through Bluemix Garages are developer resources. The company works with enterprises to deploy containers and transition to modular microservices. This starts with a workload or two, working up from there to re-architect a company’s software stack, step by step.

IBM employs Watson in all manner of scenarios, from gathering business intelligence (BI) data to virtual helpdesk agents, the latter of which was on display at the Bluemix Garage in the form of chatbot experiences. IBM’s Watson Conversation platform lets you build chatbots that can do anything from help you buy a product to recommend a drink to you (as shown in this chat above).

Blockchain has universal applicability across a broad swath of industries and use cases, but one of its most interesting applications is in global trade and asset tracking. In IBM’s demo Bluemix app, you can see how blockchain-based smart contracts can automate a network of global trade around something as simple as coffee growers and buyers.

At the Bluemix Garage bar, IBM used ML algorithms to create “smart beer flights.” Based on taste tests and blind ratings, the software builds you a taste profile showing a matrix of the beer attributes to which you’re partial. Cheers to unnecessary (but amusing) applications of AI.

Read more: “IBM Figures Out How to Make 5nm Chips

Originally published at www.pcmag.com.




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