IBM Launches Smart Cube i and Linux Appliances in the U.S.
May 26, 2009 Timothy Prickett Morgan
After close to two years of development and preliminary marketing in India, IBM‘s Smart Cube application appliances went on sale last Tuesday in its home market in the United States, moving one step closer to a worldwide launch. The Smart Cube appliances, which we have been watching closely since Big Blue first started talking about them a year ago, come in Power-i and X64-Linux flavors and are designed to tap into the Smart Market, a clearinghouse for systems and application software aimed at small and medium businesses.
Back in December, I gave you the rundown on the Smart Business strategy, the Smart Cube appliances, the Smart Market online store for applications, and the Smart Business Application Integrator that allows IBM and its partners to use a common set of APIs and one framework to provide automated and consistent support for any applications running on a Smart Cube. Think of it as an AS/400 circa 1988, with all of its design goals of simplicity, automation, and integration, moved forward into 2009 and reaching out over the Internet to help IBM and its partners better sell and support applications running on an appliance.
As many IBMers have said to me in the past year, the concept is easy enough to grasp, and Matthew Friedman, vice president of marketing for the Smart Business platform at IBM, said that the analogy IBM was shooting for is the one between iPods and iPhones created by Apple and its iTunes music download service.
People do not, of course, buy black boxes to run their strategic applications, even if they are small and medium businesses. So IBM is providing some feeds and speeds on the X64 and Power variants of the Smart Cubes to give people a sense of what they are buying and to give independent software vendors some specs with which to do capacity planning and pricing for the applications they want to distribute through the Smart Market.
The Smart Cube for Power Business Applications, as the Power Systems i flavor of the appliance is known, is based on a tower-style Power 520 server using the 4.2 GHz Power6 processor. This Smart Cube comes in three flavors, and none of them have L3 cache enabled for the cores. (You need a Power6+ chip for the 32 MB of L3 cache per chip in the latest Power 520s). The Smart Cube 7277 has one core activated, 4 GB of main memory, four 139 GB SAS disks, a RAID 5 mezzanine card for data protection, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, and a 950-watt power supply. It runs i 6.1 and has licenses for 25 users. The Smart Cube 7278 activates two cores, doubles main memory to 8 GB, throws on two more disks, and supports 50 i 6.1 users, while the Smart Cube 7279 has four cores turned on, 16 GB of memory, eight disks, four Gigabit Ethernet ports, and 150 i 6.1 users. In addition to i 6.1, these Smart Cubes all have the following software pre-installed: Zend Core 2.5, Java SE 5, Lotus Domino Utility Server Express (for LDAP serving), Tivoli Storage Manager, WebSphere Application Server 6.1, and DB2 Express Server Edition 9.5 (presumably in a Linux partition for that). The Power 520 is also equipped with IBM’s ISS Proventia Server intrusion protection system 1.0 software, which is also most likely running in a Linux partition, and can be equipped with Domino Collaboration Express 8.0.2 or Sametime Entry 8.0.1 for collaboration as well as other security products from IBM and, of course, application and systems software from a growing list of application vendors.
The X64-Linux versions of the appliance are known as the Smart Cube for Business Applications, and it currently comes in two flavors, both being single-socket machines based on Intel processors. The Smart Cube 7200 supports a dual-core Xeon E3110 processor running at 3 GHz, 4 GB of memory, two 250 GB SATA disks, a ServeRAID disk controller, a 500 GB SATA disk for archiving that comes in a protective metal case, and a 401 watt power supply. The Smart Cube 7401 puts a quad-core 2.66 GHz Xeon X3330 processor in the Smart Cube X64 box, doubles up memory to 8 GB, puts in four 500 GB disks, boosts the removable backup disk’s capacity to 1 TB, adds a second Gigabit Ethernet adapter, and puts in redundant 430 watt power supplies. These X64 appliances come equipped with Novell‘s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 SP2 and the same exact stack of software and options. (However, DB2 Express and WebSphere seem to be options on the X64-Linux setups whereas, according to the spec sheets I have seen, they are preconfigured on the Power versions of the Smart Cube.)
The Smart Business approach aims to get people away from worrying about (and supporting) the underlying hardware as much as possible and to focus on the applications and how they help companies run their businesses. Pricing for the underlying hardware is also something IBM wants to get customers to focus less on with the Smart Business approach, but a base X64-Linux Smart Cube runs about $4,400 according to Friedman while a base Power-i Smart Cube runs around $12,000. The i variant, of course, includes the DB2 for i database as well as integrated logical partitioning. When IBM supports partitioning on the X64-Linux boxes in the future, it will have to charge for that. So don’t get too freaked out about the price difference between the Linux and i versions of the Smart Cube. (IBM has not decided yet what virtualization technology it will deploy on the Smart Cube Linux variants, but Friedman says whatever it is, it will have to be invisible to the customer, as the PowerVM logical partitioning is for the Power-based boxes.)
The Power versions of the Smart Cubes are made in IBM’s Rochester, Minnesota, factories, while the X64 versions are made in China (just like the very similar Lotus Foundations appliance that was launched last November. (That Lotus appliance was focused mainly at supporting Domino applications and relatively simply collaboration. The Smart Cubes are for supporting a broader set of ISV applications.)
The Application Integrator is perhaps the most important part of the Smart Business strategy. IBM has over 150 patents relating to Application Integrator, in fact. “This is real automation, not just integration and bundling,” says Friedman. The other key aspect of these systems is that they have a single point of contact with IBM for all support. SMB shops that are having issues with Smart Cubes know exactly where to point the finger–right at Big Blue. The remote monitoring and tuning services that come with the Smart Cubes are run out of the Rochester facility, and the application marketplace is hosted in Boulder, Colorado, and in Bangalore, India.
The U.S. version of the Smart Market has 17 ISVs who are allowing some 45 different applications to be installed on the Smart Cubes; not all applications run on both boxes, of course. (You can see the U.S. Smart Market here, and the list of applications is growing every day.) The Smart Market site aimed at the Indian market has 38 applications. And at least one competitive deal that pitted a Linux-based Smart Cube against an i-based Smart Cube ended with the i box being chosen. “We were really focused on the X64 version in India, but lo and behold, the integration proposition of the i platform continues to ring true,” says Friedman. (We’ll try to chase that story down and get the details.)
The ISV that was highlighted as part of the Smart Cube rollout in the United States was Intuit, which is distributing its QuickBooks Enterprise accounting software on the X64-Linux appliances. With QuickBooks Enterprise loaded on the box, the Smart Cube costs $7,745; it is available through selected IBM and Intuit business partners, apparently. What it is not, however, is available on the Power version of the Smart Cube. And that is silly. If QuickBooks Enterprise can be ported to the Power version of Linux, great, or if it can’t be run inside of the PASE AIX runtime environment, then why not the PowerVM LxVM QuickTransit emulation environment, which allows Linux applications created for X86 iron to run on Power iron?