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Comment IBM has announced new BladeCentre and server offerings targeting SMBs who are seeking enhanced management capabilities.

Among the announcements were the IBM Server Connectivity Module for IBM BladeCentre, which delivers Ethernet interconnectivity between the processor blades, management modules, and the external network environment for SMBs that have limited on-site networking skills; management technology leveraging System i's virtual storage, networking, and tape resources designed to simplify Windows server management; IBM Implementation Services Servicepac for BladeCentre, a service offering to help SMBs quickly deploy a BladeCenter; and a new financing package for SMB customers or smaller departmental acquisitions.

A new iSCSI host bus adapter (iSCSI HBA) provides systems management and disk consolidation features and enables BladeCentre and System x to integrate with System i through a standard iSCSI connection on i5/OS V5R4 while coexisting with IXS and System x models attached via IXA. From this, organisations can manage multiple Windows servers with System i Navigator & IBM Director, centralise Windows data and take advantage of System i virtual storage architecture and resources for dynamic storage management and performance, and consolidate Windows and i5/OS backups while using high-speed System i tape drives. Additionally, System i management provides for the synchronisation of Windows and i5/OS user IDs and passwords as well as simplified network configuration, data access, and application communication through virtual network connections.

The Server Connectivity Module for IBM BladeCentre is now available priced starting at $999 in the US. The System i management feature for Windows will be available on 19 May, starting at $999. The IBM Implementation Services Servicepac for BladeCenter is available through IBM IGS and IBM Business Partners in the US and Canada for $6,999.

What we consider to be one of the best kept secrets in the industry is how System i can manage a seemingly complex entanglement of Windows-based systems. Although those in the know are quite aware of the management agility of the System i, many organisations simply do not equate System i with Windows management.

To our way of thinking, this is a shame. With the announcement of the iSCSI HBA we believe that a greater portion of the marketplace would be able to take advantage of System i, as iSCSI is a growing connectivity option, especially for SMBs. With the coming support for select System x and BladeCentre, we believe that iSCSI could play an important role for System i. But in order for this to happen, some serious marketing acumen will need to be deployed.

We cannot overlook that the public announcement of iSCSI HBA, as with System i 520 Collaboration Edition, has been low key, if not completely mute. This is worrisome, as System i should be positioned as an SMB "go to" solution for consolidation, Windows administration, centralized backup and file sharing, among many others. But rather than hearing System i beating its chest extolling its virtues, we are witnessing other server families in effect positioning System i, by default.

Recent announcements from System z about entry-point solutions attractive to mid-sized business can cause iFUD if System i is not properly positioned differentiated against System z. This week's announcement of System i connectivity and management came under the auspices of BladeCenter, and one had to squint pretty hard to see it as well.

When the System i5 was announced, we commented that the iSeries had some great hardware underneath, but would need to extol the virtues of its software stack in order to take back and revitalise the market. While there was some initial marketing push, it is not so evident at present.

The recent sales figures for System i have been lacklustre, and one cannot help but wonder if the lack of aggressive marketing, like that found with other IBM Systems, has something to do with the platform's sales doldrums. We still like System i, in fact we like it a lot, but stealth marketing is not going to be the answer to grow System i to the market position of which we believe the platform is worthy.

Copyright © 2006, IT-Analysis.com

Clay Ryder is president of analyst and consulting firm The Sageza Group. Prior to founding The Sageza Group, Clay was vice president and chief analyst at Zona Research.

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