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IBM unveils low-cost blades

Express version of BladeCenter chassis accommodates up to 14 dual-processor servers but costs less than $1,000.

IBM announced on Friday a lower-cost blade server option--a pared-down chassis geared for small and midsize businesses.

The new Express version of IBM's BladeCenter chassis still can accommodate as many as 14 dual-processor servers, but it costs less than $1,000 instead of about $2,800 for the regular version, said Jeff Benck, vice president for IBM's blade line. In addition, he said, Big Blue is adding a five-year financing option to the usual three-year plan, because smaller customers often don't refresh hardware as often as their larger counterparts--and because they appreciate smaller payments.

"Acquisition cost is a key pain point," Benck said.

About 30 percent of IBM's blade shipments go to smaller customers with fewer than 100 servers, but Big Blue wants to boost that. "We are trying to dispel the notion that blades are about large enterprises," he said.

IBM chiefly faces Hewlett-Packard in the market for blade servers--thin systems that slide into a larger chassis with shared power and networking equipment. However, Sun Microsystems also sells blades, and Dell will rejoin the market by the end of the year.

Market researcher IDC forecasts that blade servers will account for 29 percent of server shipments in 2008.

The Express version lacks the ability to connect to storage systems using the Fibre Channel networking technology and doesn't have a redundant module for remote management. It can still accommodate all of IBM's processor blade options, he said.

IBM is also offering new blade training, set-up services and several "business in a box" options that prepackage Linux or Windows with higher-level software such as databases or e-mail servers.

Among recent IBM blade customers are NeuStar, which provides services for the telecommunications industry; Adesa, an automotive auction company; and Imagi Production, a Hong Kong-based company that uses the servers to create digital animation for the TV show "Father of the Pride."