A Blue Business Future

New IBM strategy promises ease of use for SMB customers

New IBM strategy promises ease of use for SMB customers

Note: The Blue Business Platform has been released under the name IBM Smart Cube.

Last month, IBM previewed a new strategy to its business partners at the IBM Business Partner Leadership Conference in Los Angeles. Code-named Blue Business Platform, this new strategy is a shift in the way customers will buy both hardware and software with an emphasis on the solution rather than the architecture.

“It’s a new way to reach the SMB (small and mid-sized business) space to utilize the shift we’re seeing in the marketplace with Web 2.0 tools and technologies,” says IBM’s Mike Prochaska, product director of the Blue Business Platform. “IBM’s strategy here is to make business solutions more consumable for end users.”

For business partners looking to get their technology into the hands of those end users, the strategy offers more exposure to their target markets. But the Blue Business Platform is a win for customers as well, with an integrated, solution-focused business platform.

IBM isn’t introducing a new platform in a traditional sense; there’s no new hardware. Instead, it’s looking to use the Web to craft individual solutions for SMBs, leading with IBM i running on Power Systems and Linux running on x86 servers.

The Solutions Marketplace

The Web-based marketplace, which launches later this year, will be a place where customers can go to find solutions to business problems. The Global Application Marketplace will offer a broad range of solutions—from ISV applications, to hosted services such as e-mail hosting or online backup and recovery, to maintenance and support. Solutions can then run on an on-premise server, in a cloud or using a combination of the two. For example, your application logic can reside in the cloud while your data store is local for replication purposes or security.

Prochaska provides a high-level example of how the marketplace works: “Let’s say a dental office has been running off spreadsheets and they decide to move ahead with their technology and a server and application. They go to the marketplace and enter their specifications—a dental office with 20 employees, a $15,000 budget and the need for a CRM application. With that information, IBM will serve up to the customer—or a business partner on behalf of a customer—three or four solutions that fit their needs. They can compare them side-by-side, look at feature/functions and pricing and, most importantly, user feedback and ratings. They can also drill down into the solutions to find demos, videos and other information. Once they decide to buy a solution, it comes preloaded on the server and when they plug in the Ethernet, it ties back into the marketplace. The marketplace recognizes the customer, knows what they purchased and will start the install configure right from the Web.”

Additionally, the marketplace provides one spot where customers can go for maintenance, services and support, and additional solutions that will work with their existing ones. That always-connected status makes application upgrades and fixes much easier and more convenient. And when that dental office needs a disaster-recovery solution that backs up its data to the cloud, they just find online backup-and-recovery services in the marketplace and they’re automatically provisioned and set up from the Web and can start backing up data.

The Blue Business Platform will also offer more value to the integrated stack. “We’ll be integrating in e-mail, instant messaging, voice-over-IP and more,” Prochaska says. “They’ll be part of the new solution stack customers will receive when they get on the Blue Business Platform.”

A Triple Threat

Blue Business exists in three parts: the Web, an on-premise server and a desktop. The Web is the cornerstone of the platform, offering immediate solutions, services and support, as well as community. Like eBay or Amazon, Blue Business will offer user feedback, rating and community discussion.

The on-premise server will vary depending on the customer’s desired solution. x86 Linux solutions will ship on System x servers while i solutions will ship on Power Systems. Complementing and supporting the server is Blue Cloud.

The desktop has two views—one for administrators and one for end users. Administrators can see all of the solutions they’ve purchased through the marketplace and the state of those solutions. If problems arise, the platform will walk them through recovery steps and tie back to the marketplace for additional support, offering a transparency that speeds resolution. The client view lets users view the applications they’re authorized to access. “For end users, it’s a seamless experience,” Prochaska says. “They won’t know if something is running locally or in the cloud. It’s the same experience and interface for them.”

Anyone who’s been on running i will see similarities to how they’ve done business in the past. “Everything they’ve loved about the i platform for years from an integration and ease-of-use standpoint, IBM is bringing forward in the new initiative and extending that integration thought further upstream into the new marketplace,” Prochaska says. “And we’re making it easier for customers to maintain or upgrade their current solutions, get fixes, find maintenance or support, and buy other solutions that compliment their environments. We’re bringing together the best of IBM into this new platform, and the i community is front and center.”

Tami Deedrick is the former managing editor of IBM Systems Magazine, Power Systems edition.

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