IBM takes on Dell with 80 percent server savings claim

Self-healing and measurement, not hardware costs, are the main focus of IBM's dramatic cost of ownership claims

IBM has signalled a new battle for its servers - against Dell. Having spent last year promoting its Unix servers against Sun's Solaris machines, the company has started a marketing blitz claiming that new availability tools will make its xSeries servers substantially cheaper than Dell's over their lifetime.

A $1500 server from IBM will save over $53,000 over its lifetime, compared to a similar Dell server, claims IBM. This is IBM's first effort to substantiate the claims it makes for its server reliability programme, which bundles "mainframe like" features with lower level servers. The figures are sure to be hotly contested as they include the lifetime benefits and staff costs of running a server - highly variable figures which utterly dwarf the initial hardware costs.

IBM worked the figures out itself, using a cost-of-availability tool from the Gartner Group. It compared an IBM eServer x220 with a similarly configured and priced Dell 1400SC server, both running generic applications at a "medium sized" organisation, that is, one with $100 million turnover. The Gartner tool is not generally available to the public, said Jay Bretzmann director of xSeries server marketing at IBM.

"Total cost of ownership (TCO) has been difficult to sell," said Bretzmann, but he expects such arguments to gain force during a downturn, as "the chance of increasing an IT budget is small, and staff costs are 35 to 40 percent of the IT budget. We help to stretch IT staff further."

"People don't fully understand TCO," he said. "They buy Dell because they look at the hardware value of the bid and don't appreciate the cost of downtime and labour."

The xSeries includes IBM Director 3.1 system management software, and is branded as part of IBM's Project eLiza initiative for self-healing systems. It predicts server problems, calls for help and even orders parts automatically.

The three main parts are

- eService Agent, which detects failing hard disk drives and "calls home" to IBM, giving an electronic service report with server, customer and location details, so IBM can email the customer with solutions.

- Real Time Diagnostics, which allows the server to stay up during troubleshooting.

- System Health Check, which monitors server health, presenting its status graphically.

No marketing push is complete without a flagship customer - in this case Sea Island Resort a residential and holiday development in Georgia, which has replaced its Dell servers with IBM xServers. "Our business requires high availability and reliability," said Hensell Harris, Network Administrator at Sea Island Resort.

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