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IBM has joined HP in the race to flog short, stumpy blade servers at small- to medium-sized businesses.

Well, in actual fact, IBM has been flogging for several months. Back in June, Big Blue revealed plans for its BladeCenter S chassis. The S is for "smaller firms," and the product delivers on the moniker by plugging into standard 110 volt outlets (220v available as well). In addition, the S system chassis holds only 6 blade server instead of IBM's usual 14 servers with the extra space filled by lots of storage - a must for the SMB set.

When IBM first chatted about the BladeCenter S, it said the product would not ship until the fourth quarter. IBM has now narrowed down that date and provided a Dec. ship target for the new chassis.

But that's not all.

IBM is also promoting a new "Office Ready Kit" for the chassis. The kit is really just a case with wheels that fits around the chassis, allowing customers to run the blade unit as a standalone system rather than putting it in a rack. The case does have some features beyond, er, its frame, including air filters for blocking dust and a noise muffler. And, oh boy, is IBM proud of its muffler.

IBM has a YouTube video, showing how HP's new BladeSystem c3000 - aka "Shorty" - is effectively twice as loud as IBM's squat blade. IBM even hired some acoustics consultants to prove this.

We think it's nothing short of awesome that IBM has issued two news releases touting the BladeCenter S months before the product ships. Perhaps the company can even top today's "Office Ready Kit" addition when the new chassis actually arrives in Dec. We're hoping for a redundant beer-cooling expansion module.

A real cynic would argue that IBM's double-helping of pre-shipment BladeCenter S euphoria stems from feelings of insecurity. HP, as mentioned, just put out a product tailored for SMBs. Even worse, HP has surged well past IBM on the back of its C-class systems as the clear shipment leader in the blade server market.

Those who don't care about these things will want to note that the BladeCenter S takes up 7U of space and will run both Xeon- and Opteron-based blades at first. During 2008, IBM will offer support for Power and Cell blades too, although neither chip proves terribly attractive to SMBs.

The chassis allows you to slot 6 disks on either side of the blade servers, providing quite a bit of storage capacity. IBM reckons most SMBs need that room for data more than they need extra horsepower.

HP's "Shorty" blade system eats up 6U of rack space and can hold 8 half-height servers or 4 full-height servers. It also has both 110 volt and 220 volt options. With HP's box, you are required to use storage blades or the disks on the server blades rather than separate disks.

The BladeCenter S will start at $2,599, according to IBM, while HP's system, shipping now, starts at $4,299. Both prices appear to cover the chassis, power supplies and fans. ®

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