IBM Search: Circling Back

July 1, 2008

I learned that an engineer named Michael Moran worked on IBM’s public facing search system for many years. You can read about this person’s contributions here. (Click this link quickly. The Yahoo news disappears faster than Yahooligans resign.) Mr. Moran has left IBM to join Converseon, a social media company. I hope there was no connection between my critique of IBM’s Web search system, Planetwide. But it is pretty terrible. Because Mr. Moran will not join Conversion until September 2008, he has time to tweak Planetwide and IBM’s e-commerce sub system as well.

To be fair to Big Blue, I dived back into the Web site. This time I focused on buying something. Providing an e-commerce function seems a reasonable expectation. Plus I own NetFinity 5500 servers, and I sometimes need parts.

Let’s take a look. You can look at these tiny WordPress processed screen shots or navigate to the e-commerce splash page and run this sample query.

Finding the Store Front

On the splash page is a tab labeled “Shop For”. So far, so good. I click the tab and the drop down bar displays my choices.


I decide to shop for a workstation. Years ago I owned a ZPro workstation, and it was a workhorse. The case fell apart, but the guts kept on ticking for years.

Here’s the page for workstations. Remember. I want to buy something.


Instead of an Amazon or eBay like listing, I see a picture of a workstation. Okay, I click on the smaller workstations. The system shows me more text. Here is the product information for the Unix workstations that I wanted to buy, but I am now getting frustrated. Where are the products? Dell Computer in its darkest days with its sluggish e-commerce search system does better than this. Amazon, despite the baloney promoting the Kindle and showing me crazy recommendations, lets me get to products. Not IBM. The pages look alike. In fact, I am not sure that the display has changed. I like consistency, but I also like to see products.

ecom-page 3

I wade through the text in the center column under the picture and I click on IBM Intellistation POWER 265 Express. I get this screen:

ecom_description 04

More choices and more text. I scroll to the bottom of the page and I get a list of features. I am convinced. I scroll back to the top of the page where the “Browse and Buy” button is. I click it, and finally I get some bite-sized information and a price in red no less.

ecom prices 05

At last, I know that a basic Intellistation is $8,000 and one with some beef is $14,000. With a plain vanilla dual core pizza box server somewhat like those used by Amazon and Google costing about $800 with two SATA drives, four gigabytes of RAM, and odd bits and pieces, the IBM gear strikes me as the Rolls Royce of workstations.

Now I click on the model number. There is no “Buy” button. I get more options and more text plus some acronyms whose meaning I don’t understand;

ecom buy screen 06

I click “Add to Cart”. I skip over the talk with a live person. I don’t buy AIX because I have a copy, and I think it will work on this over priced personal computer, but I will need to hunt for drivers. IBM creates custom drivers. The order screen is designed for monitors with a resolution greater than 1024×768, which makes it tough for me to show you the entire order form.

ecom cart 07

In the right hand column are some empty boxes. These invite me to Find Service Pacs for this new workstation. I don’t fill in the empty boxes because I am not sure I will be able to get back to this order page. Why can’t IBM email me the software links or better yet, install the software on the machine? I wonder.

I now abandon the purchase.

Is This Better than Planetwide Search?

In my opinion, this crazy sequence is better than IBM’s public facing content search but not by much. I don’t think Mr. Moran was responsible for this e-commerce search system. A committee did the grunt work. A busy, busy senior manager critiqued it. Consultants analyzed it. A couple of overworked programmers coded it. Nowhere in the mix was anyone who would actually use the service.


The indifference to the needs of a user are quite interesting. In my work, I have to estimate the cost of equipment. The idea of slogging through seven or eight screens to get a price is annoying to me. You might enjoy the experience.

The dense text, the unexplained acronyms, and the weird option for searching for service packs baffle me. Most IBM hardware is purchased with the help of an IBM sales engineer. These folks have access to internal systems. Sales engineers also have phone numbers that are sometimes answered by product specialists. Buying on the iBM Web site seems to me to be designed to force most potential workstation buyers to call IBM or a certified reseller for help figuring out what the weird options are.

The design of the page at this point in the purchase process offers a range of options that don’t make sense. I saw the lease fee earlier, but there is an option to get a lease fee when I am poised to click the “Check Out” button. I did not spend $14,000 because I am happy with a commodity server at 92 percent less money.


The IBM e-commerce Web site is not as good as Amazon’s or the reviled eBay. Even Google’s lagging Google Products beats the IBM e-commerce site by a country mile.

Wow! Agree? Disagree? Use the comments to illuminate the dark corners of my tiny mind.

Stephen Arnold, July 1, 2008


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