IBM Sharpens SMB Blades

Unveils new products and services to ease the blade strain on smaller businesses

May 11, 2006

4 Min Read
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IBM today unveiled a set of new blade technologies and services aimed at the networking, storage, and systems management needs of SMBs. (See IBM Goes for SMB Blades.)

Initially, telecom firms, large enterprises, and high performance computing sites were the early adopters of blade servers, thanks largely to the cost and complexity of deploying the technology. (See Blades for Buffalo , IBM's BladeServer Blitz, and Benchmark Energy Products.)

Now that's changing. "A lot of SMBs have very limited resources in the IT department," says Randall Vogsland, infrastructure supervisor at Bowman and Brooke, a Minneapolis, Minn.-based law firm. "For organizations like that, it could be a daunting process to deploy blades."

Ishan Sehgal, program director of IBM's BladeCenter division, admits that complexity is an issue when it comes to blade deployments: "Even some enterprises struggle with the fact that the server administrator may not be familiar with the networking aspects [of blade servers]."

To address the situation, IBM has launched a low-cost stripped-down networking switch that fits into the vendor's BladeCenter chassis. Unlike higher-end switches, the Server Connectivity Module, as it is called, uses a graphical user interface and a color-coded system to help IT staff configure the likes of virtual Local Area Networks (VLANs). This, according to Sehgal, removes the need for administrators to know the vagaries of specific switch operating systems.The new switch, which costs $1,000, is half the price of IBM's existing BladeCenter switch, which it OEMs from Nortel. The new offering, however, only offers layer 2 connectivity, whereas the Nortel product comes with layer 2 and 3 capabilities.

IBM also took the wraps off a new iSCSI HBA in an effort to tie the BladeCenter platform closer to its System i family of servers. Specifically, says Sehgal, this boosts users' ability to manage Microsoft Windows applications across the two platforms.

"They have really opened up the number of devices that we can manage using the Windows capability of the System i," says Chris Edwards, vice president of systems at Kendallville, Indiana-based manufacturing firm Group Dekko. Edwards told Byte and Switch that he is using the HBA to run a Windows application that distributes desktop application updates to end-user workstations.

"Before this card I would not have been able to connect the System i directly to the BladeCenter," he explains, adding that the blades can now access the System i server's 300 Gbytes of internal storage. By deploying the BladeCenter, Edwards says he has also been able to get rid of a number of traditional rack-mounted servers, cutting his server footprint by one-third. "We went from three racks to two," he adds.

IBM, of course, is not the only vendor playing in the blade server space. Dell, Sun Microsystems, and HP are all involved. (See Dell Releases Blade Server, Sun Intros Blade Server, and HP Intros Better Blade Mgt.) But at least one analyst says IBM's taken more initiative. "I dont know of anybody that has been quite as aggressive in delivering as flexible a system as IBM," says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.A key drawback for IBM and others, however, is interoperability. Unlike HP and Sun, for example, IBM has not embraced the ATCA standard. (See HP Plans ATCA Telecom Blade, Sun Delivers Blade Server, and Grows to 60.) There is as yet no common platform for blades from multiple vendors. This could change, King says, if one vendor's technolology gains more traction with users than another's technology.

Currently, IBM's BladeCenter is leading the way, aided by Intel's endorsement of the technology, but users should not expect a blade server love-in anytime soon. "It wouldn't surprise me, but it could take a while," he adds.

IBM clearly hopes to stretch its lead. The vendor also unveiled new services today, including the bizarrely titled Implementation Services Servicepac for BladeCenter, which aims to "jumpstart" SMB blade deployments in three and one-half days. The service, which is available immediately, costs $7,000.

IBM also took the wraps off a new financing package, enabling SMBs to lease the BladeCenter chassis for 60 months and the blades themselves for 26 months.

The new Server Connectivity Module is available now, and the iSCSI HBA will be available on May 19th, priced at $1,000.— James Rogers, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

Organizations mentioned in this article:

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)

  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT)

  • Pund-IT Inc.

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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