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IBM wants to entice more SMBs to take a look at its blade server offerings.

The Armonk, N.Y., company on May 10 is unveiling a host of new features and offerings aimed at making it easier for small and midsize businesses to adopt blade servers, the fastest growing of all server form factors.

Among the offerings are a low-priced entry-level networking switch in the BladeCenter systems, integration with IBM’s System i servers, and financing and services for easier purchase and deployment of the blade servers.

“We’ve been successful with blades and with SMBs, but we continue to hear from SMBs that they have a hard time believing that blades are for them” as well as enterprises, said Tim Dougherty, director of IBM’s BladeCenter business.

IBM delivers a mainframe for SMB customers. Click here to read more.

Given the consolidation and management benefits, blades work well for SMBs, Dougherty said.

Kelly Quinn, an analyst with IDC, said IBM seems to be making the right moves in making the BladeCenter systems attractive to SMBs.

“It seems very appealing in terms of what [smaller] customers are looking for,” said Quinn, in Framingham, Mass. “It’s customizable and affordable, and not very complex, because [SMBs] don’t have very large IT departments.”

She also said it makes sense that IBM would be approaching the SMB market as a vertical, given its recent history of offering bundled solutions to other industries, such as the “retail in a box” and “banking in a box” offerings.

The new offerings represent a convergence of two key businesses for IBM, which is aggressively courting the SMB space. At the same time, the blade market is expected to grow to about $15 billion by 2009, according to IDC, and currently IBM is the leader in that space. In the third quarter of 2005, IBM held 42 percent of the blade market, followed by Hewlett-Packard at 32 percent and Dell at 9 percent, according to IDC numbers.

IBM has been growing its blade offerings over the past few years. It currently offers systems running on Intel Xeon chips, Opteron from Advanced Micro Devices and its own Power architecture. It also is looking to bring out in the third quarter a blade with the nine-core Cell chip, which was jointly developed by Toshiba and Sony.

In February, IBM introduced the BladeCenter H chassis, which offers 10 times the I/O bandwidth of its predecessor and can run any current or future systems. The chassis also comes with new management tools.

Click here to read more about IBM’s blade road map.

In addition, the OEM is pushing to expand the reach of its blade through partners via its group, which invites vendors to build solutions based on BladeCenter.

The new Server Connectivity Module, at $999, gives users a low-cost and low-maintenance networking switch blade that enables administrators to map blades and NICs (network interface cards) to servers, Dougherty said.

Through Windows management technology, users also will now be able to more closely link the BladeCenter platform to their System i platform, enabling them to use the virtual storage, networking and tape resources in the System i for Windows server management on the blades.

A new service, dubbed IBM Implementation Services Servicepac for BladeCenter, is designed to help SMBs deploy a bladed environment. Offered through IBM Global Services, IBM will send people to a customer’s site to help them set up their blade systems.

“It’s really designed to get them up and started faster,” Dougherty said.

IBM also is offering a flexible financing plan through IBM Global Financing that includes low monthly payments.

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