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IBM Seeks Cut of Server Blade Action

By Clint Boulton (Send Email)
Posted Apr 25, 2002


Dell Computer Corp. did it earlier this month. Compaq Computer Corp. did it in January. Sun Microsystems Inc. plans on doing it this year. The "it," in this instance, refers to joining the server blade scramble.

Armed with its technological team and financial clout, IBM Corp. jumped into the server blade fray Thursday when it unveiled a blade system that will incorporate its eServer, IBM TotalStorage and networking blades into one data center. Server blades are thin cards containing microprocessors and memory that are designed for a dedicated application such as serving Web pages. Their appeal lies in the fact that they may be inserted in a rack to conserve space. Market research firm IDC pegs the serve blade market will reap about $3 billion by 2005. First, Compaq did it...then Dell and Sun...Now Big Blue unveils its BladeCenter and tabs high-tech vendors to support it.

Dubbed IBM eServer BladeCenter, the systems will be powered by Intel Corp.'s DP and Itanium chips in addition to IBM's own POWER server semiconductors. Big Blue said that while other server blade market entrants are focused on serving edge applications or niche markets such as service providers, it claimed its BladeCenter will have more far-reaching appeal.

IBM plans to power the BladeCenter, slated for quarter 3 release this year, with its Director system management software for the company's eServer xSeries systems. In keeping with its trend to deploy self-managing server systems, IBM Director will combine a number of self-managing technologies, including elements of IBM Research Project Oceano, to automate the addition of system resources, based on pre-set policies when demand increases.

This also means enterprises who purchase the systems may manage, reprovision, update and troubleshoot hundreds of blade servers remotely from a console through IBM's Update Xpress, RackManager and PowerRestore applications.

IBM's approach to server blades is consistent with its mainframe product capabilities, including no single point of failure, hot swappable components for replacement, bottleneck location identification and software rejuvenation.

IBM's work, while not on the market yet, may be paying dividends in advance, as the Armonk, N.Y. firm also secured a number of high-tech firms to support its newest server venture. They are Broadcom , Citrix, D-Link, Intel Corp. , Microsoft Corp. , Nortel , QLogic, Sphera and SteelEye.

"We believe many businesses will be seriously considering blades for the enterprise data center as well as for Web front-end serving over the next five years," said Cliff Reeves, vice president for Microsoft's Windows .NET Product Management Group. "We're pleased to be working with IBM to ensure that BladeCenter servers running on Microsoft Windows server operating systems are solidly reliable, easily managed, and highly valued for every enterprise computing condition."

Gartner Dataquest, too, sees server blades as a compelling segment. It recently forecasted worldwide blade server shipments to grow from 84,810 units in 2002 to more than 1 million by 2006.

Sun Microsystems plans to release two types of blades later this year, including one that uses Intel chips and the Linux operating system, and one that employs its own UltraSparc chips and Solaris operating system. But analysts don't seem to believe firms will be any worse for wear for being late entrants. After all, there is still the issue of standards to be hashed out.

"A lack of standards will be a primary market inhibitor as many end users will be reluctant to install a blade server that appears to be proprietary," said Jeffrey Hewitt, principal analyst covering servers for Gartner Dataquest's Computing Platform Worldwide group. "This restriction on blade server demand will encourage the development of a standard designed specifically for blade servers to which the worldwide server vendors adhere. "The acceptance of such a standard should help reduce end-user inhibition to install blade servers."

HP tackled the server blade standard issue in February when it released OpenBlade, an open specification for blade servers to to foment interoperability.

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