A Little More Detail on the Smart Cube and Its Market
December 8, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In last week’s issue, I told you that IBM has launched the Smart Cube appliance server and its related Smart Market for distributing systems and application software, in India rather than the United States. There wasn’t a lot of detail about the Power and X64 boxes that are being configured as Smart Cube appliances, since IBM is really just doing a test rollout in India now and, very quietly, with selected customers in America to get feedback on how to make it all better before a full rollout in the States later in 2009.
The Smart Cube server appliances, you will recall, have been developed under the code-name “Blue Business,” which IBM first started talking about publicly this past May. (See IBM Previews “Blue Business” SMB System Sales Approach for more on the initial announcement of the project.) IBM revealed the basic configurations of the Power version of the Smart Cube appliance a month ago in an announcement that claimed to not be an announcement. (Yes, I know.) But in that non-announcement, IBM confirmed that the Power version of the Smart Cube would come in three configurations, and all are based on the Power 520 server with one, two, or four cores activated. (This is the new box, product number 8203-EA4 that can run i, AIX, or Linux and that uses 4.2 GHz Power6 cores–not the earlier Power 520 i Edition box.)
These Power-based machines are not, I have learned, going to get the nifty new boxes that the Lotus Foundations X64 appliance that was (announced a few weeks ago are getting, but will be in the same tower boxes that a regular Power Systems machine uses. The Power versions of the Smart Cube will be made in Rochester, Minnesota, and in Dublin, Ireland, which is where entry Power Systems machines and earlier AS/400, iSeries, and System i boxes were also manufactured. So it is important to realize that, as far as I know, these Power-based appliances are not being made in China. However, the Lotus Foundations and very similar Smart Cube X64 appliances are made in China, and that probably gives them a distinct manufacturing cost advantage.
For the Power-based Smart Cubes, IBM is stacking on a bunch of systems and application software, called the Smart Business Software Pack for i V1.1.0, which runs atop the i 6.1 operating system. (From my reading of the announcement back in November, it looks like you buy the software stack above and you get a freebie Power 520 server.) The email and groupware software in the stack is based on Notes/Domino and the Lotus Symphony suite is also on the box to provide a server-centric, Web-based set of office productivity tools that are Office compatible.
As I explained back in May, the Smart Cube appliance is not just a box with an operating system, but a box that has a consistent way of installing and maintaining software on the box and accessing remote services, be they technical support or remote processing of some kind. The idea behind this framework, which is built from a common set of APIs and a common toolkit and which is called the Smart Business Application Integrator, is to standardize how software and services link together, regardless of operating system. In this case, i 6.1 and an as-yet-unnamed commercial distribution of Linux that is very likely the appliance-enabled version of Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 that Lotus and its acquired Linux expert, Network Integration Technologies, have cooked up.
Anyway, the idea behind the framework is to have operating systems, systems management, database, middleware, and application software all plug together in such a way that remote management, patching, and updating of the entire stack is consistent and automated. IBM and its partners also want to make the delivery of services, such as disaster recovery or data replication, absolutely transparent to the end user and to make monitoring of the underlying hardware and its software easy, too.
As described back in May, the Blue Business platform also includes an online marketplace with Amazon-style user ratings called the Global Application Marketplace, which we now know as the Smart Market. And this, according to Mike Prochaska, who is program director of the Blue Business Platform at IBM, is where the focus of the whole project really is. “It all starts with the solutions in the marketplace, and then you work down from there to the appliance.” Prochaska says that the Indian variant of the Smart Market has around 35 solutions in it today, and that the one in the U.S., which has not even been officially announced yet, has about 28 solutions in it. He adds that the Smart Cube and its solution market will be rolled out in the first quarter of 2009 for demand generation and marketing campaigns, with a gradual ramp; he did say that because the U.S. channel is much more diverse and mature than the one in India, IBM was doing some initial sales during the fourth quarter, just to see how the channel functioned with the product from end to end.
Prochaska hinted that someday, AIX 6.1 will probably also be added to the Smart Cube appliances, and I think it is very likely that a mix of the three–AIX, i, and Linux–will be allowed on a single box. In certain markets where Red Hat Enterprise Linux or another operating system is expected, IBM will undoubtedly add support for this–particularly and perhaps only if that OS support underpins applications that IBM wants to have as part of the Smart Market in a given country.
What Prochaska wanted to make absolutely clear is that IBM was moving slowly and cautiously with the Smart Cube rollout because there are a lot of people to get on board and a lot of input IBM needs to take in. “This will not be a traditional launch like you are used to from IBM,” he explains. “We are trying to be prudent and learn from what we see in India and then in the United States. We know we are not going to get everything right from the get-go. We need to make sure we get the pricing right, for instance.” Prochaska said that the i5/OS and i community was fired up because this is a new approach to sales that will take the underlying technology out of the conversation, to make it a moot point. “We do not want this to be viewed as a System i, but as an appliance. That said, the i operating system ISVs are excited about this product,” he says.
It doesn’t look like a full-blown Smart Cube launch will happen until the second half of 2009 sometime, though. But, Prochaska hinted that other members of the Power Systems family, not just the single-socket Power 520 boxes, would be transformed into Smart Cubes before then.
Whatever IBM does, I will be keeping my eyes open and ears to the ground to let you know. If you have any feeds and speeds on the machines, or prices, remember that I have always depended on the kindness of strangers, and there are none stranger than readers of The Four Hundred.