Last week, IBM unveiled more than a dozen new products in its Express Portfolio of offerings for small and medium-size businesses. While most of the offerings were entry-level servers, the product parade included a new version of WebSphere Application Server (WAS) that should become an important middleware option for SMB customers in general and iSeries users in particular.
IBM kicked off its announcement spree last Tuesday by announcing Express Editions of its eServer p5 Models 520 and 550 that support both AIX and Linux workloads. The announcement represents the first time that the pSeries group has offered entry-level POWER5 servers in an Express package. The two models come with one or two processors (on the Model 520) or one to four processors (on the Model 550) running at 1.5 GHz. This gives them slightly less horsepower than the standard versions of these models, which run at 1.65 GHz.
From a packaging and pricing standpoint, however, the Express Editions offer significant benefits. With a suggested retail price that starts at $3,993, the Model 520 Express Edition has better price/performance than most one- and two-way servers from Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems. At a starting price of $7,050, the Model 550 Express Edition extends that advantage up to four-way systems. To promote the new models, IBM is bringing together channel partners and software vendors to increase the number of packaged pSeries solutions for SMB customers. Big Blue especially wants to target financial services, retailers, and industrial firms with the entry-level servers.
iSeries and pSeries: A Matter of Positioning
Since IBM has historically led with the iSeries as its SMB platform of choice, the new Express Edition models may lead some people to wonder if the iSeries and pSeries teams are fighting for the same customers. This will rarely be the case, though IBM is having to do some careful positioning of the two product lines to avoid confusion. The iSeries remains IBM's server for SMB customers that support OS/400 applications already or require a completely integrated solution out of the box. The pSeries targets SMB customers that have no OS/400 applications or need more database and middleware options than the iSeries offers. Many of these SMB customers own UNIX servers from HP and Sun, and it is here that IBM will pitch the eServer p5 Express Editions the hardest.
To reinforce the positioning of the eServer i5 and p5 models, IBM has packaged the Express Editions of the two product lines in different ways. The eServer i5 models come standard with an integrated DB2 UDB database and with virtualization features such as logical micropartitions and virtual networking. By contrast, the eServer p5 models come without a database and offer the virtualization package as a chargeable option. The eServer i5 models support i5/OS, AIX, and Linux partitions; the eServer p5 Express models support AIX and Linux partitions, but do not support i5/OS partitions and never will. (IBM will soon announce that the eServer p5 supports i5/OS, but only on larger models.) These differences allow IBM to offer eServer p5 Express Edition models at considerably lower prices than their iSeries counterparts, but primarily to SMB customers who have no interest in the iSeries.
That said, there are situations where iSeries customers may want to request a bid from the pSeries team. In studies of iSeries customers that Andrews Consulting Group has conducted, we have determined that around 20% of iSeries customers have one or more UNIX servers. Most of these servers are from vendors other than IBM, and many of them are in departments or subsidiaries that have their own UNIX administrators. While the eServer i5 can support AIX workloads, many iSeries owners will find it difficult to convince these UNIX-oriented groups within their ranks to consolidate their workloads to an eServer i5 partition. That is where the eServer p5 Express Editions come in handy. Indeed, I fully expect IBM to approach these groups with bids for both eServer i5 and p5 models in a two-pronged competitive winback campaign.
What's Ahead for WebSphere
While the Express Edition servers took center stage last week, a new Express Edition of WAS made a walk-on appearance as well. That appearance was made possible by an IBM press release that announced WAS 6.0 and upgrades to several other WebSphere products. Almost as an aside, the press release mentioned that WAS - Express Edition 6.0 will fully support the J2EE 1.4 standard. This makes the IBM product the first of its kind to support Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs). When the new WAS versions ship near the end of this year, WAS - Express Edition 6.0 could make many iSeries customers think twice about paying more for a standard edition of WAS in order to get J2EE support. Of course, IBM may offer both the standard and Express editions of WAS 6.0 as no-charge options on some of its eServer i5 models. I am talking with my IBM sources about their plans and will let you know what they decide as soon as possible.
Regardless of what IBM decides on the WebSphere front, one thing is clear. The company is pricing and packaging a growing number of its more sophisticated technologies to make them accessible to SMB firms. Two years ago, IBM's efforts to do this met with limited success. Today, however, the strategy is gaining traction. That is good news for the longsuffering SMB customers of IBM who wondered a few years back whether the company had forgotten them.