IBM Offers Low-Cost Blade Chassis, Bundles for SMBs
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
IBM launched a low-budget version of its BladeCenter chassis for blade servers last Friday in an effort to make the blade machines more appealing to budget-conscious customers in the small and midsized business market. The company is also launching a set of reference solutions that are not hard product bundles, but rather blueprints for wholly architected systems that IBM sales reps and business partners can use to push BladeCenters into SMB accounts.
According to Juhi Jotwani, director of BladeCenter alliances at IBM, the new chassis is based on the same chassis that IBM has been selling for more than a year and a half. That original chassis is a 7U box that can hold up to 14 two-way HS20 Xeon or JS20 PowerPC blades; it also has redundant power, cooling, and system management boards as well as a plethora of networking and SAN connectivity options. The problem is, that original chassis costs $2,789, and it is overkill for many SMB customers. So IBM has stripped out the SAN connectivity, removed the shared floppy drive for the blades, and taken out one of the management modules on the box and dropped the price to $1,000. (IBM has left in the shared DVD drive.) The same HS20 blades and JS20 blades plug into the box, and SMB shops that want a little more oomph can even use the four-way HS40 blades, which are based on Intel's Xeon MP processors. However, customers using the stripped down chassis are restricted to local disk storage on the blades or network-attached storage. The new chassis will ship on November 4.
While the modest price cut that comes from the trimmed down BladeCenter chassis will help grease sales into the SMB market, helping partners put together complete blade solutions is probably equally as important. That is why IBM is announcing six blade reference architectures, which it calls Business-in-a-Box Bundles, to help partners configure and sell a complete blade package to SMB shops. Why not ship real bundled products with discounted prices? "SMB customers hate hard bundles," says Jotwani. She says that the reference architecture approach means that customers can see all the pieces as they fit together, and then only pay for the pieces they really need. This approach also makes it nearly impossible to analyze.
The blade bundles are based on having seven blades in the box, but can scale down to having four blades. They include a basic setup running Linux for Web, email, print, and file serving, and another one running the Microsoft Windows stack to accomplish the same task. There is a setup expressly for running SAP's MySAP ERP software on Linux-based blades, and another that uses SteelEye's LifeKeeper high availability clustering software for Linux servers. Another bundle wraps a Windows stack together with terminal serving software from Citrix Systems for companies that want to have Windows-hosted thin client workloads, and yet a final bundle is aimed at the bioinformatics market and plugs in the new 2.2 GHz JS20 PowerPC blades with Linux, the Atlas gene-searching software, and the open source BioJava and BioPerl extensions to those programming languages aimed explicitly at the needs of the bioinformatics market.
In addition, IBM is announcing a two-and-a-half day JumpStart installation and configuration service for SMB customers who buy BladeCenters for $4,000, and is offering 3.7 percent financing for a 60 month term on the chassis and for 36 months on the blades to try to cushion the blow for SMB customers.