IBM Aims For Big Piece of Facilities Assessment Services Pie

In fact, when it comes to the data center and infrastructure, 40 percent of all inquiries to Forrester Research pertain to a need for gap analyses for facilities environmental issues, such as power and cooling.

"The big thing that is triggering it is data-center consolidation, enabled by virtualization and servers," says Forrester analyst Brad Day.

As a result, some key suppliers of power and cooling systems for the data center have recently launched new products better suited for today's rack- and blade-based data-center environments. For example, APC earlier this year started offering its InfraStruXure line, which applies cooling among actual racks rather than in larger, more centralized cooling systems.

Liebert yesterday expanded its XD line of cooling solutions that target high density areas of a data center with the XDO, a system that supports 20 kW, a 25 percent increase over the equivalent system it replaces. The company also launched XDV, which supports 10 kW per rack up, from 8 kW. IBM and HP have also added cooling solutions to their blade and rack-based systems.

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IBM sees an opportunity to cash in on much of the custom integration work it has performed for large customers with productized services it will offer at starting prices of $20,000. The company earlier this week launched its IBM Site and Facilities Service Products. As part of that, IBM is also licensing APC's InfraStruXure line.

If IBM is successful, it could be a boon to its base of systems integration partners. But at least for now, Big Blue wants as much of that business as possible, hence its decision to offer only the assessments through its IBM Global Services business. Company officials are quick to point out they will allow selected enterprise partners to sell these services, which include five preconfigured assessment offerings tailored at specific needs, such as data-center relocation, thermal analysis and high density readiness.

But IBM has no immediate plans to allow partners to deploy those services. And don't expect high margins.

"It clearly requires a very specialized set of engineering skills," says Steve Sams, vice president of site and facility services at IGS.

Forrester's Day says he can't see how IBM won't have to turn to partners to deliver the services based on the demand he is seeing from customers.

"I just don't think 400 professionals on a worldwide basis will allow them to scale to the demand," Day says. "What they need to do is train their systems integrators and select resellers who they can have as an extension to their sales forces."

To meet demand, Day believes IBM will need as many as 3,000 people through its alliances and partnerships. IBM, however, isn't as bullish about demand.

"If demand exceeds supply, we will need our partners to help us do these, but if demand is small, then the partners probably won't want to get into it," Sams says. "It really depends on how the market receives this offering."

Day believes Sams is underestimating demand for these services. "I know customers who will be salivating for these services," he counters.

Some IBM partners are already offering their own data-center facilities services. Logicalis, for example, started offering such services two years ago, which has become a profitable offering.

"We've enjoyed some privacy in this space," says Al Lepeau, a Logicalis account executive. "[IBM is] the 800-pound gorilla on the block in terms of professional services. They need to stay within their core competency, but they are looking to grow their business the same as everybody else."

Both APC and Liebert are beefing up their efforts to work with IT partners. For its part, Logicalis says APC is its sole turnkey provider for data center, power and cooling systems. But, could APC's ties with IGS and IBM's rather "cool" enthusiasm for bringing more partners into the implementation game become an issue of conflict?

No, says Alistair Pim, APC's director of global alliances. "IBM can wrap their services around it or our partners can," Pim says, of the APC power and cooling product line. But Pim suggests that IBM may be ahead of the game in terms if its ability to deliver such services.

"From my perspective, I believe IBM can offer a great suite of services to give the customers what they want," Pim says. "There are certainly other partners who can get close to that, but I think IBM has a very good understanding of the SMB market,and what services are like in that market. I think they will do very well in that space."

Should APC partners and resellers be concerned? "If they are competing well against IBM already, they shouldn't be worried," Pim says. "If they have good relationships with their customers, they will be fine."

Nonetheless, Logicalis' Lepeau says he doesn't see IGS as an immediate threat. "We've got the footprint and track record," he says. "That will take anyone entering this space a while to accumulate."