How Big Blue put Rochester on the cutting edge of computing

How Big Blue put Rochester on the cutting edge of computing

In 2013, for example, IBM informed employees that servers would be assembled in Guadalajara, Mexico. At the Rochester location, employees like Buchardt helped teach their replacements. The company’s shift abroad was notable enough that then-candidate Donald Trump touched on the subject during his remarks in Minneapolis on Nov. 6, 2016.

IBM Rochester now focuses on cloud computing, AI services, finance, and patents. In 2018, IBM sold its Rochester campus to real estate development company IRG. This meant the cavernous warehouse and manufacturing spaces of the campus could be used by companies more focused on production. In the past few years, cancer therapeutics company Vyriad, for example, moved into a space on the campus.

The ‘good old days’ were good, said Tory Johnson, IBM Minnesota Senior State Executive, Rochester Senior Location Executive, and VP of Supply Chain Engineering, Systems, but they also came with a thicker bureaucracy and less flexibility. He believes employees are far more entrepreneurial and empowered to make decisions now.

Consolidating IBM’s operations on the east side of the campus has allowed for a renewed spirit of culture and collaboration. Last year, IBM employees volunteered a total of 23,000 hours, according to Johnson.

On May 31, IBM announced its next generation of mainframe systems, the Z16 Artemis — which Rochester helps support. It represents just one more step in the ceaseless march of innovation in tech.

The work at IBM Rochester has always bordered on indecipherable to laypeople, but as tech evolves, the ability for one person to understand it all has gone away entirely.

“We design the computers on computers,” said Schram. “You can’t touch them anymore. You can’t probe them, you can’t measure things necessarily. It’s all so small, that you are looking at a computer virtual design of something that some other machine magically produces in a factory with chemicals and UV light, and all sorts of stuff that nobody can really see or touch. But at the end of the day, something pops out and you connect a few wires up to it and it works.”

Bryan Lund is a Rochester-based writer and regular contributor to Med City Beat

Cover photos courtesy History Center of Olmsted County

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