Custom-made for Their SMB Customers

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2007-09-14

Custom-made for Their SMB Customers


Custom-made for Their SMB Customers

To Ann Livermore, one of the mistakes major OEMs make when courting smaller businesses is offering enterprise-class products that have been scaled down to serve companies with fewer than 1,000 employees.

The result is companies with limited technology dollars and small IT staffs having to deal with overwhelmingly complex hardware and software. Hewlett-Packard is looking to address those problems with the newest enclosure in its line of c-Class blade products, the BladeSystem c3000, nicknamed Shorty for its 10.5-inch height.

More than a clever nickname, the new system offers several features that HP is hoping will attract midmarket buyers who may have considered blades a tool of large enterprises with massive data centers.

"One of the things we have seen is that [the midmarket] is an important and huge segment, but most of the time products get built for big companies and then they try to be scaled down for the midmarket," Livermore, executive vice president of HPs Technology Solutions Group, said in an interview with eWEEK before the new enclosure was launched Sept. 12.

HPs new blade is just the latest attempt by a large vendor to gain an edge in a market that Livermore estimates represents some 500,000 companies worldwide with between 100 and 1,000 employees each. In June, IBM announced a new BladeCenter S, a six-blade chassis system, as well as on-board storage and switch options, aimed at small businesses.

Dell, of Round Rock, Texas, on Sept. 10 released the PowerVault MD3000i SAN (storage area network) array for the small and midsize business market. The product offers 18TB of capacity for about $13,000.

Like Livermore, CEO Michael Dell said the IT industry has underserved the needs of SMB customers, giving them too little or too much.

"Growing businesses are quickly reaching a breaking point in their ability to store and manage all this data being created," Dell told a group of analysts and reporters at the launch event in San Francisco.

Click here to read more about HPs new blades for the midmarket.

"Historically, the industry has presented SMBs with two options for storage: Either buy a rudimentary storage solution like a DVD or tape that lacks capacity and basic software or buy a de-featured product originally designed for large businesses," Dell said. "So it either doesnt do enough, or it costs too much. We will change that."

Michael Speyer, an analyst at Forrester Research, said technology such as HPs c3000 blade will help strengthen the companys position as it looks to grow in the midmarket.

"The midmarket is looking for products that can deliver the [computing] complexity of the enterprise with the management complexity taken away," Speyer said, adding that storage is one area that both enterprise and midmarket companies continue to look to invest in.

"A lot of it depends on how big the storage needs are going to get, and this solution does give smaller businesses a nicely scalable data center in the box and a small-form-factor environment," Speyer said. "HP is also offering critical apps such as CRM [customer relationship management] without having to go out and investing in a miniserver farm."

Speyer said Dell, HP and IBM are key competitors in the space, though Livermore said her company holds an advantage over its rivals. IBMs BladeCenter product falls into the same problem as other servers—it takes existing enterprise technology and tries to shoehorn it into a midmarket product, she said. As for Dell, Livermore said that another midmarket key is a strong channel program, something that Dell is just starting to grow.

At the c3000 launch, HP officials said the company has about 5,000 channel partners throughout North America ready to sell the new blade architecture to customers. "Suddenly, what we see is a lot of midsize companies that need simple-to-manage but big, strong computing capabilities, and so we see a need for small IT sites that have big computing and storage needs," Livermore said.

"They have a need for a lot of computing power but have a very small IT staff, and they have limited capabilities around power and computing and limited expertise around particular technologies. … What we are trying to do is hit that segment with this blade offering," she said.

HPs blade enclosure can hold up to eight blades and can plug into a standard 110- or 220-volt wall socket. Less cabling means it can fit into a closet or other small spaces for companies where space is at a premium.

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-made for Their SMB Customers"> HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., is also offering services called HP Solution Blocks that allow users to custom-order a range of third-party ISV applications or order training and updates from HP. In addition, HP is offering a new storage blade—the SB600c—that will work with the c3000 and c7000 enclosures.

Other midmarket-friendly features in Shorty include reduced power and cooling costs, lower costs for companies looking to set up a SAN, and simplified cabling. Midmarket IT managers can also use the Solution Blocks to order systems with software applications already built in and ready to run.

Blades are a key area of interest to HP and its competitors. While not as big a market as industry-standard x86 servers, blades remain one of the most important market segments for top-tier OEMs. In August, research company IDC said blade revenue increased 36 percent in the second quarter; HP led the way with a 47.2 percent market share. IBM placed second with 32.3 percent.

The trick now is to expand the blade market from the enterprise to midsize companies that are familiar enough with the technology to begin considering blades as an alternative to traditional rack-mount servers to address issues of power, cooling and space.

"What we have done with Shorty is move that whole [HP] Adaptive Infrastructure into this box," Livermore said. "Shorty has all the servers and storage and the technology around power and cooling inside it. Its got the interconnect technology inside of it. It has the management software inside of it. It has got the automation tasks around configuration management inside of it."

Russ Stringer, a server engineer and disaster recovery expert with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, in Birmingham, oversees an enterprise-class IT infrastructure but is intrigued by the possibility of using the c3000 at remote offices for either storage backup or creating a virtual desktop infrastructure using thin-client PCs.

Stringer has used HP c-Class blades in the companys main data center to save on power and cooling and to consolidate older servers.

"As a company, we have made a decision to go to blades for space, power and cooling," Stringer said. As for the new blades, "Im looking at one, and their standard power supply is 110 [volts], so I dont have to worry about pulling 220 [volts] into a remote office. It also allows us to use our stock of spare parts if something goes wrong."

For Dell, offering enterprise-level storage at an affordable price meets a growing demand from SMBs.

Michael Dell said his companys research shows that less than 20 percent of small businesses and less than one-third of midsize companies use advanced storage systems such as SANs. Forty-one percent of small businesses say expanding storage capacity is a top priority for the next 12 months, but high-end Fibre Channel SANs are considered too costly and complex to administer and require special skills that most SMBs dont have, Dell said.

A fully configured Dell MD3000i storage server, with seven drives and set up for 16 ports and 18TB of capacity, will retail for about $13,000, said Darren Thomas, Dells senior vice president for storage.

Henry Baltazar, an analyst at The 451 Group, told eWeek that as more SMB customers move from direct-access storage to iSCSI, many more products like the MD3000i will become available.

"This [product] is catering to that lower end of the market," Baltazar said. "Well be seeing a lot more of these enterprise solutions trickle down as well. It will create even more competition. Its a preview of things to come."

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