IBM bundles blades with Express applications

Big Blue takes building block approach, targets mid-cap companies

Describing it as a "Lego-like" approach to building on-demand IT systems, IBM on Tuesday unveiled a product that combines the company's blade servers bundled with its Express line of applications.

The BladeCenter Business Express, aimed primarily at midsize companies, is designed to allow users to build more integrated and customized systems and solutions that can be literally snapped into their existing IT infrastructures, as their computing requirements change.

"Users can now go to a business partner to get a BladeCenter chassis and put in it blades that we have already preconfigured with things like a database or portal server that is ready to be plugged in," said Elaine Lennox, vice president of small and medium size business at IBM's systems and technology division.

Lennox cited one example of how the product's integration capabilities can cut down on the guesswork of optimizing blade servers and applications. A preconfigured, pre-tested blade can be a team collaboration server that could facilitate communications and also provide a portal interface for teams to create, edit, and share documents in an online work area, Lennox explained.

Such an offering could come pre-loaded with IBM's Workplace Services Express on a BladeCenter system, and could also include Express Runtime, WebSphere Business Integration Server Express and WebSphere Portal Express, Lennox said.

IBM believes the Lego approach not only makes building systems less expensive but much easier for IT shops to manage and maintain, Lennox said.

"Typically customers today build systems by adding box after box, to where they can multiply like rabbits. With this approach users are just adding blades to a chassis so manageability is less complex because you have the chassis all ready to go," Lennox said.

Analysts generally agreed that taking a modular approach to selling bundled blade solutions is a sensible one to take to attract midsize companies. Some, however, feel IBM needs to do a more aggressive job educating those users about why such solutions are good not just for large enterprises but also for SMBs.

"There is a perception that blades are more of an enterprise solution. They [IBM] have overlooked the educational component that will help mature the market. They need to spend some money to establish some proof points that will help gain some traction, and help people along with these first implementations," said Mika Krammer, a research vice president at Gartner Research.

BladeCenter Server Express will be packaged and distributed by large distributors including Avnet and Agilsys, according to IBM officials. Avnet will work in concert with BladeFusion, an independent software maker, to integrate that company's Secure Production Environment into a user's chosen solution, which will provide a number of self-healing capabilities as well as increased security and scalability.

Available immediately, the leasing costs per building block server go as low as $120 per month for a portal server that can handle as many as 20 users, for instance, or $160 per month for a business integration server that can handle as many as 1,000 catalogs. List prices for the building blocks range from $4,500 to $9,000.

More information about the new offering can be seen at www.ibm.com/ondemand.

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