IBM takes aim at SMBs

IBM redoubled its efforts to gobble up marketshare among (SMBs) small and midsize businesses on Wednesday, rolling out several bundles made up of its hardware, software, services, and financing programs that are specifically packaged to address their problems.

The new offerings have at their core IBM's series of Express server software offerings announced earlier this year, including versions of WebSphere Application Server Express, WebSphere Portal Express, and DB2 Express. Hoping to ensure users and business partners that the bundled solutions are not watered down versions of existing offering for enterprises, IBM announced a new certification program that all products must meet.

To carry the Express name all products and services have to go through a process where they meet certain minimum benchmarks for performance, ease of use, simple installation, and overall ease of ownership, according to company officials.

"This is not a one-size-fits-all strategy or approach we are taking. We have designed these solutions working backwards by starting with what the users want from them, and making sure they are designed and priced appropriately for shops that do not have a lot of money or IT resources to throw at integrated solutions," said Marc Lautenbach, general manager of IBM's global small and medium division, in Somers, N.Y.

Giving testimony to the newly announced solutions, one of IBM's business partners said it was able to deliver an Express-based solution for a Plastic Surgery Center in Hampton Roads, Va., by using WebSphere Portal Express.

"Frankly, without the lower entry-point of the Express line we could not have created an IBM solution for the Plastic Surgery Center. We would have had to go to (Microsoft's) .Net," said Blair Hankins, CTO at Ascendant Technology, in Austin, Texas.

Underlining the importance of delivering solutions unique to SMB's computing needs Lautenbach and other IBM executives cited the results of a recently released Nielsen ReelResearch survey Big Blue sponsored. The good news from the survey was that more than half the SMBs surveyed think information technology will be the most important factor in helping them achieve their business goals over the next 12 months. The bad news is that most surveyed said the majority of solutions available now are merely scaled-down solutions that have been around for enterprises.

"This, in part is why these solutions are being delivered with lots of autonomic capabilities for self-managing and self-healing. (SMB) users want the software to fix itself, they don't want or need IT to have to come in to save the situation. We have also designed these products to deal with integration issues, which IT shops both large and small are spending a good portion of their budgets on these days," said Joann Duguid, vice president at IBM's SMB systems group.

Highlighting the offerings is WebSphere Commerce Express that helps mainly midsize companies create and better manage their e-commerce sites. The new bundle is powered by the company's Intel-based e-Server xSeries servers and comes with WebSphere Portal Express that makes it easier for a company's employees to access important data as well as content management tools.

Another WebSphere product is WebSphere MQ Express, which connects a number of different applications allowing users to share data across their infrastructure.

A third offering, called IBM eServer Integrated Platform Express for Employee Workplace, is being aimed at companies with between 100 and 250 employees and offers express configurations that can be sculpted by IBM's business partners to accommodate a number of different vertical markets including retail, distribution, and health care. The bundle is made up of IBM's xSeries 255, Linux, and\ WebSphere Portal Express.

The entry price is US$35,000 for 20 users.

IBM's personal computing division unwrapped a new program that makes it easier for SMBs to buy, install, and manage the company's ThinkPad notebooks and ThinkCentre desktops. Certain models within these lines will be offered to SMBs with the pricing and configuration advantages that are now available to large enterprise accounts.

IBM's global financing division also kicked in with an offering designed for midsize companies intended to make it easier for them to acquire and expand On Demand Express solutions. Under a single contract users can buy business applications, hardware, services, and maintenance.

IBM Global Services also kicked in unveiling its Global Services Express Portfolio, which will offer a range of infrastructure support and managed services for midsize businesses. The portfolio also includes hosting and fixed priced implementation services with a number of ISV partners including JD Edwards, SAP, and several others.

One example is the IBM Wholesale Distribution Solution for SAP, which is a fixed priced solution better enabling midsize companies to more efficiently take part of their users supply chains or to better mange their own.

At the press event here, IBM officials said they intend to spend in the neighborhood of $200 million in demand generation to create awareness of its Express solutions and those of its business partners.

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