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Smaller Businesses Embrace Blade Servers

Vendors like HP and IBM are hoping to cash in on the interest by designing blade server systems specifically for smaller businesses.

The blade server wars are heating up, and this time the battlefield is the small and mid-sized businesses, whose specific needs and volume potential have led market leaders Hewlett-Packard and IBM to tailor specific new platforms to meet their requirements.

IBM since June has been touting its BladeCenter S platform, which has a Dec. 18 roll-out scheduled and is targeted specifically at SMBs. Hewlett-Packard last month introduced a new blade server chassis dubbed "Shorty" that the company claims will provide mid-size companies with an "easy-to-configure data center in box."

The efforts to provide mid-size businesses with tailored blade platforms represent something of a "catch-up" effort for IBM and HP, which both were caught by surprised at the high level of server blades into data centers of medium-sized businesses, said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata, in an interview.

Blades were initially designed for large enterprise and service provider-level installations, where the higher densities enabled by the installations were a top priority, he said. But smaller businesses also turned to server blades for the benefits of the associated platform ecosystems, which provide a single cabinet for consolidation of servers, cables, and simplified monitoring and management.

"With the mid-sized businesses it really is more about integration than density," Haff said. "Blades are started to prove very popular with the mid-market because of their compactness, and now the vendors are bringing out these specialty SMB configurations in hopes that blades will be even more rapidly adopted."

Jim Ganthier, director of BladeSystem for HP, said SMBs account for about half of IT revenues, but technology vendors too often provides smaller customers with only "watered-down versions of enterprise class solutions" instead of products specifically intended to meet the needs of mid-market businesses.

The recently introduced Shorty, or BladeSystem c3000, provides much of the same attributes that are found in HP's previously introduced BladeSystem products, but in a format that can more easily used and managed by smaller staffs that don't have deep and specialized IT knowledge, Ganthier said.

"Truthfully most SMBs have been unhappy when they purchase IT products because they really don't fit their requirements," he said. "We believe they deserve to have products built to uniquely to address their needs."

Shorty comes in a more compact enclosure than normally associated with HP's BladeSystem. The enclosure will accommodate up to eight blades, plugs into a standard wall electricity outlet. It is available now.

IBM on Thursday announced it will make its upcoming BladeCenter S available in an "office ready kit" designed to run "virtually anywhere in the office."

The kit will enable customers to reduce energy use by as much as 25%, and includes such features as built-in air filters to block dust and a noise attenuator that muffles noise associated with the system, making the platform suitable for small data centers or "server closet" installations in smaller offices. The kit has space for servers, storage and backup, comes with keyboard, monitor, and mouse.

BladeCenter S has been "right-sized" to provide six blade server slots and plugs into a 110-volt electricity socket found in any office. The system can be configured in a similar fashion to how a consumer would set up a home PC using a "wizard-based" installation interface.

The platform will help "smaller firms get the simplification and integration that the biggest companies have been getting from blades, in a package that is optimized for their business," said Alex Yost, VP and business line executive for IBM BladeCenter.

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