IBM Takes On HP by Targeting SMBs

Big Blue is preparing to roll out its BladeCenter S chassis for small and midsize businesses in December.

IBM is gearing up to take on Hewlett-Packard in the small and midsize business market.

The Armonk, N.Y., IT giant is preparing to release in December the new BladeCenter S enclosure, which it first announced in June. IBM plans to target many of the same SMB customers and enterprises with remote sites that HP has its sights set on with its new BladeSystem c3000 product.

While blade servers have mostly been targeted at large enterprises, both IBM and HP have begun to design blades and enclosures for midmarket and smaller businesses as a way to continue growing this market.

In its latest report on the server market, IDC found that blade revenue grew more than 36 percent in the third quarter of 2007, compared with the same time period in 2006, and that IBM and HP together control about 80 percent of that market.

IBM first introduced the BladeCenter S enclosure on June 14, but HP launched an aggressive campaign for its BladeSystem c3000 product that coincided with the 2007 VMworld conference in September.

In an interview, Ann Livermore, HPs executive vice president for its Technology Solutions Group, said the idea behind the c3000, or "Shorty," was to create a blade system specifically engineered for smaller customers with limited IT staffs.


Read more here about HPs BladeSystem c3000 and eWEEKs interview with Ann Livermore.

Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research in Hayward, Calif., said that while the blade market has yet to reach maturity, HP and IBM are pursuing aggressive campaigns to grow the market.

The trick to capturing SMBs, King said, is targeting businesses that are looking to simplify IT costs and choices. These companies might be open to blades as a viable alternative.

"HP has always been a big player in the small-business space, and I think they will have some great opportunities with the c3000," King said. "IBMs BCS [BladeCenter S] looks like its designed for smaller organizations that are really taking advantage of IT, and IBM has developed it for them in a really sophisticated way. … It looks like IBM is trying to make a bigger splash in the smaller business market than they have in the past."

Big Blue is looking to offer customers similar features to HPs enclosure, although Alex Yost, vice president of IBM BladeCenter, said the BladeCenter S will be much quieter than the c3000, while offering more storage, using less power and allowing SMBs to grow their IT infrastructure as they need.

In addition, Yost said IBM has designed the BladeCenter S for SMBs, which means an enclosure can fit into a closet, under a desk or in a corner. It uses four power cords that use standard 110- or 220-volt power supplies, and it runs at 60 decibels to keep noise down. The enclosures starting price, $3,298, is comparable to HPs BladeSystem c3000, which begins at $4,299.


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"These customers are looking for something that is not a watered-down version of an enterprise solution," Yost said.

In addition, IBM is including what it calls an "Office Ready Kit," which includes air filters that block dust and prevent overheating the system, a muffler to reduce sound, and a series of physical locks to keep anyone from tampering with the actual blades.

On the storage side, IBM is allowing customers to mix and match SAS (serial-attached SCSI) and SATA (Serial ATA) drives that will initially allow up to 9TB of storage. To help set up a storage network, IBM is also introducing an automated tool called "1-2-3 Storage." These features, Yost said, make the enclosure attractive for medical companies that need to store patient information and medical images, as well as for security businesses that need to store dozens of hours of digital surveillance.

The storage part of the BladeCenter S is the one piece that King believes IBM has a clear advantage compared with HP. The 9TB of storage that can be incorporated into the enclosure and the ability to use backup tape are some of the advantages that the HP c3000 enclosure cannot match, King said.

"If youre looking for an end-to-end business-in-a-box system with a half-dozen servers, integrated storage and backup, its really the only choice," King said. "Otherwise, youre going to have to start stacking boxes."

King added that he is impressed by how quiet the enclosure runs and the management console that IBM built into the enclosure.

The BladeCenter S enclosure, which measures 11U (19.25 inches), can support up to six blade systems as well as a number of different system offerings from IBM, including two-socket and four-socket blades that use a range of dual-core and quad-core processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

The enclosure has also been designed to support IBMs own Power- and Cell-based blade systems.

The blade servers support between four and 16 DIMM (dual-in line memory module) slots that can support up to 4GB of memory. IBM is planning to introduce blade systems that can take advantage of solid-state drives.


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