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IBM throws sharper blades at SMBs

Networking, financing, servicing. Ker-ching

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IBM has concocted a new recipe for making blade servers more attractive to small- to medium-sized business. Take some networking, add a dash of services and then wrap the whole package in sweetened financing.

Blade servers have primarily been aimed at larger customers with racks and racks full of servers. IBM, however, hopes to extend the server technology to the little guy by making the boxes easier to manage and cheaper to acquire. While smaller guys might not need the space saving features of blades, they do want to tap the shared networking and management aspects of the systems, according to IBM.

"SMBs very much want the same kind of simplification benefits that the enterprise guys can get," said Tim Dougherty, director of IBM's BladeCenter biz, in an interview with The Register. "The smaller guys don't necessarily have the staff to maintain multiple systems, so blades can be a good way to go."

The first part of IBM's SMB blade package is a $999 "Server Connectivity Module" otherwise known as an Ethernet switch. Perhaps IBM thinks a "module" more palatable than a "switch" to the little guy.

The device has IBM's name on it but is made by Nortel spinoff Blade Network Technologies. To make life easy on SMBs, IBM has color coded the system so that customers can map blades to the ports on the switch.

The second bit of the blade extravaganza comes in the form of a 3.5 days Global Service engagement. IBM's services team will teach the SMB customers the ways of the blade, including networking, heat considerations and management tools. The idea is to get your blades up and running as quickly as possible.

Along similar lines, IBM's financing team is also here to help. IBM has set up a 60-month lease for the BladeCenter chassis and a 36-month lease for the actual blades. There are also "easy outs" at the end of the three-year blade term, Dougherty said. Such a structure makes sense given that customers can hang onto their chassis for quite a bit longer than the blades, which are more dependent on changing components.

Lastly, IBM has a Windows management package that lets blade customers tap into System i (formerly iSeries) boxes.

SMBs have shied from blades for a couple of reasons, including the higher average cost of a blade server and the lack of standards in the market. Each major vendor still ships a proprietary chassis, so why get locked into one vendor when you can keep buying rack-mount systems? In addition, SMBs don't often have the same data center space constraints of larger customers or, in fact, the cooling needed to run several racks of blades.

Dougherty, however, says these SMB problems with blades are fading. The per server cost of a blade versus a standard box moves in favor of the blades when you factor in the shared networking and power management aspects of the BladeCenter chassis, he said. ®

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