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IBM goes live with Smart Cube appliance server

The modern day AS/400

The trick

The trick for IBM is that it is accomplishing this on both Linux and i platforms, and could extend this to AIX or even Windows if it wanted to. The benefit is that IBM can peddle the Smart Cubes with a single point of contact for tech support for the system and its applications (a difference that SMB shops won't care about). That contact will be IBM itself, not the ISVs whose applications are bundled. IBM is also controlling the distribution and installation of the machines through the Smart Market, and it's charging ISVs a commission on sales as well to help support the costs of the market and in exchange for lead generation.

The x64-Linux versions of the Smart Cube appliance look very much like the Lotus Foundations collaboration appliances that Big Blue debuted last November. There are two versions of this tower machine, and both of them are single-socket Xeon boxes. The Smart Cube 7200 has dual-core Xeon E3110 processor running at 3 GHz, 4 GB of main memory, four 250 GB SATA disks, and a 500 GB removable disk for archiving.

The Smart Cube 7401 has a quad-core Xeon X3330 running at 2.66 GHz with 8 GB of memory, four 500 GB SATA disks, and a removable 1 TB disk for archiving. The archiving is managed by IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager software, which can also be told to back up data over the Internet to an archive service that IBM is running for the machines.

The machine is equipped with SLES 10 SP2 and costs $4,400 in a base configuration. That price includes SLES 10, Zend Technology's Zend Core 2.5 PHP engine, a Java runtime (Java 5), Domino Utility Server Express (for LDAP authentication), the Tivoli storage management code, plus a license to DB2 Express Server 9.5 and WebSphere Application Server 6.1. IBM is also tossing in its Proventia Server IPS 1.0 intrusion protection software. Customers can add Domino and Sametime collaboration software and additional Proventia security tools for an additional fee.

The Power-i variant of the Smart Cube has the same software stack, except it is running on the i 6.1 operating system instead of SLES. It therefore supports the portfolio of RPG, COBOL, and Java applications that have been coded for and sold predominately on AS/400 and successor platforms. The other big difference is that the Power-based Smart Cube includes IBM's PowerVM logical partitioning software comes standard with the box. Friedman says that IBM will eventually offer virtual machine partitioning on the x64-Linux version of the Smart Cube, but hasn't decided what to do just yet.

While hypervisors are basically free, the tools to use them certainly are not, and that is one of the reasons why the Smart Cube Power edition has a base list price of $12,000. The i 6.1 operating system also includes the DB2/400 variant of IBM's relational database on it as well, which is not cheap and which is not a toy like the DB2-Express (formerly "Derby") database on the Linux box. Another reason why the x64-Linux Smart Cube is cheaper is that it is made in China, while the Power variant is made in Rochester.

There are three sizes of the Power-i Smart Cube, and all of them are based on the Power6 version of the Power 520 tower server that was announced last April using 4.2 GHz cores. These are not the Power6+ machines that IBM announced on April 28 of this year using slightly faster 4.7 GHz cores. None of the Smart Cube Power editions have L3 cache enabled on their chip package. The Power6+ variants of the Power 520 servers have 32 MB of L3 cache for every dual-core Power6+ chip in the box.

The Smart Cube 7227 has a single Power6 core activated, plus 4 GB of memory and four 139 GB SAS disks. It has 25 licenses for i 6.1 users. The Smart Cube 7278 has two cores activated, 8 GB of memory, six 139 GB disks, and licenses for 50 users. The Smart Cube 7279 has four cores activated (the maximum allowed in the box), 16 GB of memory, eight 139 GB disks, and eight 139 GB disks. According to the IBM spec sheets, the same exact systems software stack is available on this Power variant of the Smart Cube, including DB2 Express (which is superfluous).

Pricing for configured Smart Cube appliances are all over that place, as you can see if you browse through the Smart Market. A configured base x64-Linux Smart Cube with QuickBooks Enterprise sells for $7,745 for five users. Some of the applications get up towards the $70,000 to $100,000 range, and a number of them break through to even higher levels. Appliance does not mean inexpensive, it would seem.

IBM has not said when it will launch the Smart Cube appliances in Europe, but it is probably trying to get a core set of application providers in Germany and Italy together to flesh out the European Smart Market before it does such a launch. There is little question that IBM will want to push Smart Cubes and local applications into Russia, China, and other high-growth markets where SMBs are short on IT skills and perhaps a little longer than their American counterparts on cash. ®

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