Lenovo To Resell ClearCube Desktop Blades

We’re not just IBM’s stuff.

That’s not likely to be the slogan of the recently anointed third largest PC supplier in the world. But China-based Lenovo, best known in the U.S. as the company that bought IBM’s desktop and notebook computer line, is branching out.

Levono has just announced a reseller agreement with Austin, TX-based ClearCube Technology to carry ClearCube’s desktop blade servers designed for companies looking to simplify PC management and support.

“Lenovo doesn’t want to be just another PC company, but one that’s pursuing innovative solutions whether of their own design or someone elses,” said Raj Shah, chief marketing officer at ClearCube.

The eight-year old ClearCube is shipping what it calls its fifth generation product line. The basic idea of the ClearCube blade is that it takes standard PC hardware off the desktop and centralizes it in a cage or rack of blades, which can be in a central computer room and managed remotely.

Each blade can support from one to four users. ClearCube, which is already resold by IBM among others, is based on standard Wintel technology — either Centrino or Pentium processors and Windows software. At the desktop level any standard PC monitor can be used along with a small, videocassette-sized, ClearCube access port that connects to the cage via standard Ethernet cabling.

“From a corporate perspective, desktops are going down rapidly (in sales), as companies buy more notebook and mobile products,” said Simon Yates, PC industry analyst for Forrester Research. “I think Lenovo saw the need to offer an alternative (along with its Thinkpad notebooks) to the PC. Blade PCs are a nice alternative because it takes the CPU off the desktop and puts it in a secure closet.”

Security is a key selling point for ClearCase. The company made its name in its early days with sales to government agencies.

The sector is still a core constituency, with clients such as as the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) where about 500 Blades have been installed.

The blade’s access port can be set not to accept peripherals such as external disk drives which could theoretically introduce viruses and other harmful software, as well as support headaches.

With ClearCube, IT and other support departments can monitor, upgrade and address user problems from a remote location using ClearCube’s management software. If a blade conks out, there is a fail-safe capability to simply switch the affected user to another working blade within minutes with access to all the same data and applications.

The upfront per user cost of a ClearCube can be up to twice that of buying a desktop PC, but ClearCube touts vastly reduced support costs, which can more than eclipse the purchase over time.

For exaemple, a study by IDC of 17 ClearCube customers forecast that a company with a 100-seat ClearCube implementation could save the equivalent of $35,120 annually in IT time.

“While ClearCube is not appropriate for all organizations, it does allow certain types of companies to do more with less,” the IDC report stated.

From a user’s perspective, there is more desktop (or floor) space with a blade, and none of the heat or noise a typical desktop PC emits.

In some situations, blades could help with distribution of more appropriate computing resources. Typically a company might give a new employee, say a clerical or administrative worker, a new computer with the latest features even though a long time employee, say in engineering, uses something less powerful.

In the desktop system it’s often just easier to start someone with a new PC than upgrade someone else. Swapping and allocating such computing resources is a much simpler affair in a blade network where it’s more a case of making changes to the management software.

The market for blades is projected to be eight million units by 2008, less than 5 percent of the overall PC market, though likely to be focused in the lucrative mid to large-sized business end of the market. The other big name in desktop blades is HP. Forrester’s Yates expects many other companies to enter the market in the next few years.

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