IBM, ClearCube to extend relationship

Companies unveil hardware/software bundle aimed at the banking industry

IBM and blade PC and software vendor ClearCube Technology are expanding their existing three-year relationship to include a hardware and software bundle aimed at the banking industry, according to executives at the two companies. Due to be announced Monday, the bundle will enable financial services and bank branches to provide a virtualized desktop to their end-users as a way to simplify and cut the cost of IT support.

Called the IBM System Solutions for Branch Banking, the bundle will feature IBM BladeCenter blades or its xSeries servers with ClearCube's management and allocation software as well as IBM's Director central office management software, according to Doug Balog, vice president, eServer BladeCenter, at IBM. The BladeCenter blades and xSeries servers are powered by Intel's Xeon processors. The bundle is based on VMware's virtualization software and will support virtualized clients running Windows and Linux operating systems.

IBM and ClearCube are launching the bundle to coincide with a banking industry event, the BAI Retail Delivery Conference, taking place in Orlando, Florida, Tuesday through Friday, Raj Shah , chief marketing officer at ClearCube, said in a phone interview Friday.

The move builds on IBM's entry into the blade PC market with its Virtualization Hosting Client Infrastructure (VHCI) offering which Big Blue unveiled last month in partnership with Citrix Systems and VMware, an independent subsidiary of EMC. Users can currently pilot the VHCI offering which is due to become generally available in the first quarter of next year.

ClearCube is the long-standing leader in the blade PC hardware arena, but Shah sees no conflict between the company and newer entrant IBM in that market. ClearCube's approach focuses on a one-to-one linkage between its blades and third-party servers, according to Shah, while Big Blue is concentrating on a many-to-one or many-to-many model where many virtual desktops hook into a single blade or a number of blades. Balog pointed out that the IBM blade in the banking bundle is a blade server. "We're not doing dedicated PC blades," he said in a recent interview.

For the past three years, IBM Global Services (IGS) has been reselling ClearCube's entire product portfolio encompassing both its blades and its management software in a number of countries including the U.S., the U.K., Spain, and Japan, according to Shah. In some instances, IGS provides services and support for the ClearCube products. What Monday's announcement reveals is the first time ClearCube has worked with IBM's server division, he said. "We've been working with BladeCenter for the last six months on internal pilots and proof of concept," Shah said.

"This doesn't change our previous relationship [with IBM]," Shah said. "Whether it's one-to-one or virtualization, making the connections between users -- the connection management -- is the tricky piece of the business," he added. Shah said that the IBM System Solutions for Branch Banking will include three ClearCube blade management and allocation products, its Grid Center, Control Center, and Blade Manager software.

Both executives said that they plan to expand the bundle to other vertical industries in future.

"This is the first we'll do of many," Balog said. The next likely industry they'll target will be retail, he added. Shah agreed and added that a bundle for call centers would be another logical extension of the banking product.

IGS plans to make the bundle available in the first quarter of 2006, Balog said. For now, the IBM division can install a proof-of-concept System Solutions for Branch Banking bundle with hardware, software and services for just under $100,000, he added.