IBM making more blade moves in retail space

Bundle is aimed at large retailers

IBM unveiled a server, storage, networking, and software bundle based on its BladeCenter servers targeting the retail market Monday. Known as the Systems Solutions for Retail Stores, the bundle follows similar packages IBM has already announced for the banking industry and small to midsize businesses.

IBM already has over 100 major global retailers using its BladeCenter servers in their data centers, according to Juhi Jotwani, director of solutions and alliances for xSeries and BladeCenter at IBM. Although retail has traditionally been seen as an industry sector slow to adopt the latest technology, retailers have latched onto blades quickly, she said in a recent phone interview.

The aim with the new bundle is to move blade usage from the data centers into retailers' stores. "Going forward, the need for services in stores is growing tremendously," Jotwani said. Retailers are offering services including CD burning and photo printing which are driving their need for more servers, she added.

Available Monday worldwide, the bundle is aimed at large retailers who are running three to four servers in their stores, according to Jotwani. "If they have less than two [servers], it doesn't make sense for them to invest in BladeCenter," she said. IBM does plan to release a similar bundle based on its low-end xSeries servers targeting smaller retailers and retailers in emerging countries in the second quarter of this year, Jotwani added.

IBM is making Monday's announcement to coincide with the National Retail Federation's annual convention and expo taking place in New York through Wednesday.

BladeCenter already supports Windows, Linux and Unix applications and will now also support IBM's 4690 point-of-sale (POS) operating system. Support for a variety of different operating systems is particularly important for retail stores, according to Jotwani. While many pharmacy applications are Unix-based, newer digital applications run on Linux and many POS terminals run Windows. BladeCenter servers are available with chips from Intel or Advanced Micro Devices or IBM's own Power processors.

Users can combine the retail bundle with IBM's Store Integration Framework (SIF), a software framework based on IBM's middleware, to facilitate the remote management of applications from a central data center.

IBM has also partnered with Symbol Technologies Inc. to integrate Symbol's WS5120 wireless switch into the chassis of IBM's BladeCenter server as part of the bundle, according to Jotwani. The switch helps retailers improve wireless availability, security and manageability.

Jotwani didn't provide specific pricing for the bundle, saying the cost could be very variable. However, she estimated an average figure of less than $25,000 per store for the Systems Solutions for Retail Stores hardware, software and a few basic applications.

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