Comedian Will Ferrell shouted "Blue, you're my boy!" in the movie Old School, but there's no way that level of excitement can be translated over to technology behemoth Big Blue.

That's because IBM (NYSE:IBM) has been struggling to grow, as judged by its recent stock chart and the second-quarter earnings results it released Tuesday. What will it take for Big Blue to achieve its former glory?

Herding elephants
Unfortunately, IBM may be too big to get all its moving parts headed in a unified, positive direction. Core earnings grew an impressive 16% sequentially, but sales shrank 2%, though this was partially attributed to IBM's sale of its personal-computer division to China-based Lenovo. Excluding those sales, overall sales rose only about 1%.

To stem weak top-line growth, IBM has been focusing on reducing costs, including efforts to move business to lower-cost India. Nonetheless, bearish investors are concerned about continued weakness in the services division, since IBM is signing a lower volume of contracts. Management contended in its earnings update that the service business is focusing on profitability over top-line growth. The hardware segment has also been anemic, due in part to tepid server growth. The third and final division, software, continues to be the strongest segment and reported decent sales growth of 5%.

To keep a pulse on the overall state of IBM's segments, it's useful to look at more pure-play competitors in each space. There are few in hardware; Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ:SUNW) also competes in servers, but it's been struggling. EMC (NYSE:EMC) competes in servers and software, while there are many in software, including Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), Oracle (NASDAQ:ORCL), and SAP (NYSE:SAP). Overall, a look at the competitive landscape confirms that the hardware and service spaces are tough, while software is much more profitable.

Back to Blue
Overall, IBM's sales and earnings growth have struggled, growing only about 2% over the past five years since the bursting of the dot-com frenzy. Sales have grown only few percent for almost 10 years now. Management talks of numerous repositionings, but fortunately continues to throw off prodigious amounts of operating cash flow and repurchase shares. The problem has been revitalizing core growth and finding new expansion avenues. While investors wait for things to turn around, they're receiving an OK dividend yield of 1.6%.

Investing in large-cap growth stocks since 2000 has been unquestionably frustrating, and it's beginning to test the patience of even the most die-hard investors. IBM's trailing P/E of about 14.4 represents the lowest of its P/E multiple range over five years. Fortunately, its earnings growth over the past three years or so has improved to almost 17% per year on average, thanks to cost-cutting initiatives. But cost-cutting can only go so far, and nearly $90 billion in annual sales is a large base to grow from. There's no denying the valuation is appealing, but there just doesn't seem to be enough growth to get investors excited in IBM right now. It'll be a while before Big Blue is anyone's boy again.

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Fool contributor Ryan Fuhrmann has no financial interest in any company mentioned. Feel free to email him with feedback or to discuss any companies mentioned further.The Fool has an ironclad disclosure policy.