IBM Japan- Back in early November, we did an overview of the IBM i market in Japan, which accounts for about 10 percent of the IBM i installed base and is third to North America and Europe, which have always dominated the AS/400 and follow-on IBM midrange markets.
In this follow-up story, we wanted to dig a little deeper and talked to two downstream resellers, Bell Data (which is a publishing partner of The Four Hundred in Japan) and Star Computer, which is a downstream partner from iGuazu, the largest distributor of Power Systems with IBM i machinery in the country. (To learn more about the higher-level master resellers and what Big Blue told us about the Japanese market for IBM i systems, refer to that original story.) We also owe thanks to Simon O’Sullivan, senior vice president at high availability and system monitoring software maker Maxava, who has been spearheading the company’s move into the Japanese market and who provided us with the connections to resellers and his own insight about what is going on in the Land of the Rising Sun with regards to our favorite platform.
The culture in Japan is quite a bit different from what we are used to in North America and Europe, but interestingly, the AS/400 and its progeny very easily found a place in the business culture there.
“Japan is completely different, it is not like doing business in the United States, or Europe, or Southeast Asia. It is a completely different kettle of fish,” explains O’Sullivan. “We have sold into the market for a while. If you want to do business in Japan, you have two choices. You can operate there as a branch office, where you work totally through business partners and that means you can’t do any of the services work yourself and it has to be done by those partners. And that’s the way we have been operating in Japan until 18 months ago. At that time, we decided we needed to push into Japan, given that one out of every ten IBM i customers are located there and it is relatively close to New Zealand. It is a market we understand because we have been there for a long time operating as a branch.”
Maxava opened up an office in Tokyo and employed an office manager; the company already had a technical person in Japan and then hired another support person that can speak English as well as Japanese. The company also tapped Akinori Meguro, a very well-known IBM i expert in Japan, who is acting like an ambassador for the company, helping it make connections to the local IBM i community, and then added another a tech support specialist who speaks Japanese but works in New Zealand. So there are quite a few Japanese people on the Maxava staff to help drive this business.
Maxava is also getting some help from the reseller channel. Star Computer is a Maxava reseller, and iGuazu, the biggest master reseller and the upstream partner to Star Computer, has also inked a separate agreement to resell Maxava products in Japan, according to reports in the Japanese press.
O’Sullivan says that Maxava has 70 customers in Japan at this time, and is doing five times the number deals this year as it did last year – in part due to the uptake of Power9-based machines but also because it has opened up a direct office in Tokyo. The sales pipeline is a factor of 10X larger now than it was a year ago, and there is plenty of room for it to grow. Maxava has closed seven deals in the past six months, and three of them were done by Star Computer.
“We are seeing momentum across the board, and a lot more leads and opportunities coming in,” says O’Sullivan. “We are pretty confident that Japan is going to be big for us. The only other competition really is Syncsort with the Vision Solutions HA products. The opportunity for HA software in the country is quite large. HA penetration is not really been what you would expect in Japan. In other geographies, the penetration of HA products where some sort of replication is being done might be 10 percent of the base, in Japan it is around 5 percent of the base, which is surprising in a country that gets regular typhoons and earthquakes and sometimes tsunamis.”
If there are 15,000 IBM i customers in Japan, and the installed base of HA shops is about 5 percent, then that means there are about 750 IBM i customers who are doing HA, with Maxava getting about 10 percent and Syncsort/Vision Solutions having most of the remaining 90 percent. But assuming that HA software should eventually be used by maybe 10 percent to 15 percent of the base, there is another 750 to 1,500 potential customers to chase. Hence that big pipeline that O’Sullivan was mentioning above.