IBM appliance speeds up software installation

IBM's Smart Cube appliances integrate specific software components that are easier to run and manage

In an effort to set itself apart from other server vendors, IBM on Tuesday said it was stepping up efforts to make purpose-built appliances that remove the complexity of integrating software and services in a system.

As part of its growing Smart Business strategy, IBM said it would offer Smart Cube appliances that integrate specific software components that are easier to run and manage than traditional servers and PCs. The appliances can be set up in minutes to get applications running quickly, as opposed to hours or days for traditional servers.

As part of the strategy, the company on Tuesday will announce that it has partnered with Intuit to deliver an appliance that integrates IBM's hardware with Intuit's QuickBooks financial software. Once powered up, the appliance and software can be set up and configured in four steps, IBM said.

The software is targeted at small and medium-sized business that want to quickly integrate software into their business environment at minimal expense, IBM said.

Starting at less than US$8,000, Smart Cubes are an inexpensive option to get an integrated hardware, software and services package compared to traditional servers, said Matt Friedman, vice president of strategy and marketing for IBM Smart Business. The combined effort of buying the server and software, and setting up back-up and security features could end up costing more, he said.

After set up, Smart Cube appliances are remotely monitored by IBM, which tracks their health and pushes out software patches and updates. That could help reduce downtime and maintenance costs, Friedman said. Each Smart Cube also includes IBM's Tivoli Storage Manager software to back up and restore data.

Though purpose-built around specific software, each appliance has containers to load additional software. The company has partnered with about 45 software vendors to build applications for the appliances.

The combination of software, hardware and remote services will appeal to SMBs concerned about integrating the pieces themselves, said Ray Boggs, an analyst at IDC. The appliances could also appeal to firms lacking IT staff or the personnel to take proper care of duties like accounting and finance.

The market is generally underserved and will represent an increasingly important opportunity for IBM and other vendors. "This is new for IBM both from the standpoint of implementation as well as target market," Boggs said.

IBM first tested the Smart Cube idea in India last year, where many SMBs were purchasing hardware or deploying applications for the first time, Friedman said. Software drives a lot of the hardware purchasing in India, and purpose-built appliances fit the needs of that market, he said. For example, Smart Cube appliances fit well into the infrastructure of vertical organizations deploying ERP (enterprise resource planning) software for the first time, he said.

IBM is now expanding the Smart Cube strategy in the U.S., and will expand it to Europe in October, Friedman said. The Smart Cubes run on Linux software and include a software stack optimized to support and manage business applications securely.

They come in two configurations. The Smart Cube 7200, which is powered by the dual-core Intel Xeon E3110 processor running at 3.0 GHz, supports up to 1TB of storage and 4GB of memory. The SmartCube 7401, which is powered by Intel's Xeon X3330 processor running at 2.66GHz, supports up to 2TB of storage and 8GB of RAM.

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