IBM Goes Nuclear on Computing

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Researchers at tech stalwart IBM (NYS: IBM) have just discovered a way to store data at the atomic level, with the potential to someday fundamentally alter the scale of mass-data storage. After more than 100 years, IBM continues to innovate in the tech sector, and its business is as strong as ever. Yet even in this age of technological obsession, IBM isn't the rock star stock it ought to be. Here's the long and the short of why it could be more.

Radical, dude
Specifically, the company's researchers have found a way to store a "bit" of information in as little as 12 magnetic atoms. For those who don't know, that's a radical improvement over today's storage devices, which require about a million atoms to hold a single bit of information.

Put another way, IBM's discovery means data storage might one day be possible at 1/83,000th the scale of today's disk drives. The company stresses, however, that there's no time frame for bringing this work to market. IBM published its work in the journal Science only last week.

Goodbye, Moore -- hello, Heinrich
In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon E. Moore proposed the notion that computing power doubles approximately every two years. This theory became known as "Moore's Law" and has accurately predicted the development of the computer ever since. But, according to IBM, that ultimately means shrinking data storage down to the scale of atoms, as low as you can go.

But rather than waiting for Moore's Law to get there in 10 or 20 years, IBM started at the atomic level and built up from there. "We are explorers in the field of starting from atoms and building structures that might be useful for IBM or other players in industry," lead IBM researcher Andreas Heinrich told CNET.

Wake up, Wall Street
Fourth-quarter earnings for IBM are due out any day now, but as of the end of the third quarter, Big Blue was doing very well. For the quarter:

  • Net income rose 7%, to $25.6 billion.
  • The company's EPS of $3.28 beat Wall Street's EPS expectation of $3.22.
  • Gross margin ticked up 1.2% to stand strong at 46.5%.

IBM missed forecast revenue, taking in $26.2 billion instead of $26.3 billion, in the Street's eyes a great crime. We, however, shall let that very small peccadillo pass.

Even more reasons to like Big Blue
Many big tech companies, like Microsoft  (NAS: MSFT) , rely on a few big products or areas that see them through. Microsoft's current cash cows are, of course, MS Office and the Windows PC operating system. Windows, though, is on the decline as more and more computing moves off PCs to other devices that don't use it.

And much like IBM in the '80s and '90s, Hewlett-Packard (NYS: HPQ) , another IBM peer, is currently in the midst of great change and is trying to figure out how to stay relevant itself. Its board has famously been in disarray of late, contributing to the uncertainty regarding the company's ultimate direction, which then feeds further disarray in the board -- a kind of chicken-and-egg situation. Both Microsoft and HP are in need some corporate reinvention, HP considerably more so.

IBM, however, has it all brilliantly figured out. As such, the company is vibrant through and through, posting strong numbers across the breadth of its business in the third quarter:

  • Software revenue rose 13%.
  • Services revenue ticked up 8%.
  • Service backlog stands at $137 billion, up $2.4 billion from last year.
  • Systems and technology revenue rose 4%.

IBM also has an emerging-markets story, a component vital to any company pursuing significant growth:

  • The company increased revenue in its growth markets by 19%.
  • Revenues in the all-important Brazil, Russia, India, and China markets rose by 17%.
  • Growth markets revenue stands at an impressive 23% of IBM's total geographic revenue for the third quarter.

A company always on the move
Having gone through a fallow period and a real identity crisis in the '80s, IBM is a completely reimagined company -- a global IT services and business consulting powerhouse that's growing, profitable, and, as this atomic data storage breakthrough demonstrates, as innovative as ever.  

IBM's stock has been on a steady climb since the market bottomed out in 2009, and is currently trading for around $178 per share. With a P/E of 14, it's reasonably priced. The company even pays a small dividend and has raised guidance for the full year to $13.35 per share.

IBM isn't a rock-star stock yet, but it ought to be. Read about another sleeper stock, a leader in the field of data mining and business intelligence, set to change the face of business, in this free Motley Fool special report: "The Only Stock You Need To Profit From the NEW Technology Revolution." Get your copy while the stock is hot by simply clicking here now.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorJohn Grgurichis not a rock star, but ought to be, though he owns no shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Motley Fool, on the other hand, owns shares of International Business Machines and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a scintillatingdisclosure policy.

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