Harris Farm deploys IBM all-in-one servers



news Retailer Harris Farm Markets revealed in late December that it had deployed IBM’s all-in-one compute, storage and networking Flex System in its operations to meet a variety of aims ranging from reducing IT costs and complexity to boosting the performance of business systems such as its ERP platform.

Traditionally many corporate IT environments have relied on so-called ‘blade’ servers which comprise many powerful small servers housed in the same rack enclosure, with storage and networking tasks performed separately. However, some vendors are increasingly integrating the different platforms together for some styles of deployment. IBM bills its Flex and PureFlex systems as being able to go ‘beyond blades’, offering an alternative to current enterprise computing models.

In a statement released in late December, IBM said that retailer Harris Farm Markets — one of the largest fruit and vegetable specialists across Australia — had picked an IBM Flex System to deploy in its IT operations, in a rollout which is designed to support the retailer across the next decade. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Harris is expanding its online ordering capability, and is using Microsoft Dynamics ERP software and Magenta retail and point of sale systems.

Working with partner Hands-on Systems, IBM is to provide Harris Farm Markets with a customised Flex System which will include an IBM Flex System Enterprise Chassis; two IBM Compute nodes; and an IBM Storwize V7000 storage system. The IBM solution will replace Harris Farm’s existing IBM systems configuration to meet projected requirements for storage and applications and is expected to be delivered by mid-January this year.

“Harris Farm’s reputation rests on our ability to offer the freshest quality produce possible,” said Simon Maizels, chief information officer, Harris Farm Markets in IBM’s statement. “By optimising our ERP system with state-of-the-art hardware performance, the IBM Flex System will allow us to build on that reputation by offering us unprecedented capacity and response time when managing our supply lines, analytics and automatic stock replenishment systems. Additionally, the solution will enable us to grow our new online delivery service which we plan to expand to the Sydney metro area in 2013.”

“Even before designing the solution, we were confident that IBM Flex System would provide Harris Farm with unmatched performance and potential for future growth,” said Earl Paras, Hands-on Systems. “The adaptability and scalability of the IBM Flex System range fit Harris Farm’s long-term IT growth and quality-assurance strategy perfectly.”

IBM’s Flex System was only introduced in April 2012, so it’s fairly new. To get my head around it, your writer just dunked his brain into about 10 minutes of in-depth marketing videos and datasheets. It was an interesting Big Blue-themed experience which I’m not sure I would want to repeat any time soon ;)

From what I can see (and there’s a good overview of Flex published by The Register here), the platform’s pitch relies on the ideal that those purchasing datacentre IT infrastructure would prefer for it to be better integrated — they’d like to be able to easily add on extra power to their server platforms through adding on modular compute, storage, networking and management nodes within the same rack chassis units. While I’m not as clear on the specifics as I’d like to be and there are also quite a few differences between the various platforms, it seems to be that this is very much the same philosophy which is underpinning the development of the Vblock class of systems being developed by the VCE coalition (VMware, Cisco and EMC).

I can see why this kind of setup would be attractive, and certainly within the Harris Farm Markets environment, you’d have to imagine that the organisation would have felt it a fairly easy next move, given that the organisation would be unlikely to have really huge processing requirements and that it was already an IBM hardware customer.

However, personally, to me the whole thing smells just a little bit like vendor lock-in, especially for large organisations. While IBM has always been at the top of the class when it comes to server resources, there’s arguably a strong degree of competition in the storage and networking worlds (hello EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Cisco and so on) that would make me leery about getting too strongly into bed with any one vendor.

I guess it depends on the size of the organisation. Many small to medium-sized businesses would likely find it easier to standardise on smaller numbers of vendors with these kinds of integrated systems, while I imagine larger IT shops would be more likely to keep aspects of functions such as storage, networking, compute and management more separated out, for reasons such as ensuring they can get best of class and cost efficiency in each area. I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts on these different styles of deployment.

Image credit: Harris Farm Markets


  1. They bought FlexSystem, which is really just “Son of BladeCentre” + some storage. Only the big end of town will buy the bigger PureFlex application servers which compete with Oracle.

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