IBM plans to create SMB blade bundles

Palmisano says IBM will work with partners to create blades that are tightly integrated with IBM's software and services

IBM intends to make its blade servers more attractive to small to midsize business (SMB) customers and help its business partners target those users.

Sam Palmisano, IBM chairman, CEO, and president, welcomed suggestions made by IBM business partners that the vendor work on creating blades for the SMB market that are tightly integrated with IBM's software and services.

During his keynote address Tuesday at IBM's PartnerWorld conference in St. Louis, Palmisano said the partners wanted blade bundles that they could easily sell to customers as opposed to the more complex IBM blade offerings available at present.

Designed for high density, blades are the fastest-growing segment in the server market. The stripped-down blades slot into a chassis that provides a shared power supply and cooling capabilities. The blades or the chassis can include network and storage connectivity.

To date, IBM has predominantly aimed its BladeCenter blades at large enterprises, which can draw upon their own internal IT resources to carry out software and services integration, according to Tim Dougherty, the company's BladeCenter strategist. Despite that focus, SMBs already account for as much as 30 percent of IBM's blade business, he said.

Small companies tend to have a lot of computers, since they often buy a machine to do a specific job within their operation. Being able to use blades within a chassis instead of a number of individual machines can make life easier for small businesses, Dougherty said. The customers also like blades' simplicity in relation to their integration of storage and network switches and reduced cabling, he added.

IBM already offers a family of blade chassis, with each housing able to fit any of the vendor's blades. It's possible that the vendor might develop a specific chassis for SMBs, according to Dougherty, accommodating less blades than the average housing, which holds 14 blades. A customer generally needs to have their blade chassis half full to start realizing a return on investment from the technology.

IBM would also look at ways to integrate its blades with particular applications and to apply a common management infrastructure to the server, Dougherty said.

As to other directions for blade technology, he expects much of IBM's systems and technology group's portfolio will appear in blades, for instance, a dedicated storage blade. Also possible is a scalable blade that could extend beyond the current 2-way or 4-way blades, Dougherty said.

"One of the big home runs we've had together were blades," Palmisano told IBM partners. "We were first in the market. We had a good run for a couple of years, now we've got competition."

IBM's prime competitor is Hewlett-Packard, which is the current market leader, according to research by market analyst IDC. On Tuesday, IBM took the wraps off its first blade workstation, a product HP already provides.

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