IBM has released a new version of its mid-range AS/400 server unit, priced at $12,900 and designed specifically for small business.
And to push it out into the marketplace it has appointed IBM RS/6000 business partner Tardis as the new AS/400 Advanced Entry edition's sole distributor. Distribution of the Advanced Entry represents Tardis' first foray into the AS/400 marketplace, and the AS/400 division's first foray into two-tier distribution.
To sell the product Tardis is seeking experienced business partners who can provide customer solutions on the new box. Channels manager John Wright believes business within the first six months will come mostly from existing IBM AS/400 business partners. "But one of the major tasks, if not the major task that we've been given, is to actually go out there and increase drama-tically the number of people that can take this product to market. And that obviously falls outside of the traditional IBM business partner base.
"My goal this year is doubling the number of business partners out there," said Wright. "And they will be extra Tardis business partners, taking these products out into the marketplace, very much addressing small business."
To reach this goal he must double the existing base of 50 partners.
Finding new audiences
IBM's manager for the AS/400 Division, David Russell, says that while there are currently 28,000 published AS/400 applications, success of the Advanced Entry is dependent on attracting non-AS/400 developers. It has already had some success, with developers such as Greg Sier and Associates, Aspect, BCM Systems and Watershed bringing their applications across. Development environments to be targeted include Unix developers and PC-based developers for Progress, Delphi and Clipper.
Russell said IBM conducted extensive research before launching the product, and believes there are no shortage of buyers. "In Australia there are 380,000 small businesses with under 100 employees, and there are 250,000 with under 10 employees. We looked at their buying behaviour and what they are looking for, and found that what 47 per cent want is a hassle free environment. They want to manage their business, not their IT infrastructure, and that has been a major strength of the AS/400 for quite a while."
As for the AS/400 Advanced Entry itself, Wright says the server is a slimmed-down version of standard machines, featuring the same 64-bit RISC processor and object-oriented OS/400 operating system, but in a less powerful configuration. It includes an integrated PC server for running network operating systems such as Novell NetWare and OS/2 LAN Server for file and print serving, while beta testing for Windows NT serving will commence before the end of the year. The AS/400 Advanced Entry can also function as an Internet and Domino server.
"It comes back to traditional AS/400 strengths, being packaged in a smaller box," said Wright. "And those strengths include things like reliability, the amount of resource required, and the wealth of applications and experience out there in the marketplace with regard to the AS/400."
Wright says the AS/400 holds these advantages over a principal rival: Microsoft Windows NT. "I think you'll find that if you compare it with NT they are probably exactly the areas where NT isn't strong. Reliability isn't one of NT's strengths at this stage nor is the number of applications available."
While pricing for the machine is comparable to high-end PC servers, Russell says IBM and Tardis won't spend time changing the minds of those who have already made their decision. "We'd obviously not try and sell them an AS/400, we'd sell them a PC server with NT and so forth. I think there is a market out there where the benefits of the AS/400 interest a lot of those small businesses, where it's an ideal suit for an AS/400, and not a PC server."
And while the price may place the hardware within reach of small business, Russell says IBM has also worked to bring the specialist AS/400 applications within their reach. Leasing deals have been struck with many developers which will see applications available at rates as low as $975 per month over three years.
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