Guides IBM, Intel Slice Open Blade 'DNA'

IBM, Intel Slice Open Blade ‘DNA’




IBM and Intel think so. The companies said Thursday they agreed to free up their blade server specifications in the hopes of luring third-party companies to develop thin computing machines based on their designs.

The companies will allow third-party vendors to build custom blades from the shared intellectual property.

Unlike larger “box” servers, blades typically run in a rack in a data center, allowing servers, storage and networking devices to run together. Consuming less space and power because of their pizza-box-like size, blades run Web sites and e-mail systems in a more cost-effective manner than their bigger-box cousins.

Tim Dougherty, director of marketing for IBM’s eServer BladeCenter, said
blades have matured to the point where there needs to be an effective
blueprint hardware concerns can use to create modular machines for
themselves.

Thus, IBM and Intel “are granting free and open access” to the design
specifications of the BladeCenter system, Dougherty told internetnews.com.
Specifically, IBM and Intel will offer blueprints for appliance vendors and
developers to create BladeCenter-compatible networking switches, blade
adapter cards, and appliance and communications blades.

HP, IBM’s chief blade rival, rejects the significance of the news. Paul
Miller, vice president of marketing for HP Industry Standard Servers and
Blades, questioned what good can come out of two companies foisting
their blade blueprints on customers.

Miller said leading vendors have been trying to hash out a common blade
management framework to promote interoperability, pointing to the
Distributed Management Task Force’s agreement with the Blade Systems Alliance, as an example of one such effort to commercialize blades through uniformity.

“Two vendors and a partnership does not equate to a standard,” Miller told
internetnews.com. “When you look at the blade ecosystem, customers are
not looking for a system they can build themselves. They’re looking for an
integrated solution that fits their whole spectrum of needs. Just opening up
a specification that talks about an interface is not solving customer problems.”

Moreover, Miller questioned the point of opening up BladeCenter while
the product is in the “sunset” of its life cycle, and wondered if IBM’s
commitment is as rock solid as it should be for vendors to use the spec.

Illuminata analyst Jonathan Eunice called the notion that BladeCenter is at the
end of its lifecycle “laughable,” and has a theory as to why HP might be
upset.

“HP is perhaps upset that it was first to market — of the majors, at least —
and yet IBM has grabbed a signifiant share, as well as apparently being
Intel’s better friend on the blade front,” Eunice told
internetnews.com. “That has got to rankle, given how much of HP’s
fortunes it has committed to Intel, and how successful they were together in
the Intel server business (ProLiant) to date.”

Eunice also pointed out that the very same arguments that IBM is now making
around opening up its blade design were made by HP before the Compaq
acquisition, when HP was trying to do the very same thing with a cPCI-based
design.

IBM’s Dougherty said he realizes if enough vendors begin building products based on
IBM and Intel technology, their work could become the default standard; he noted that IBM came up with the system after determining it wasn’t feasible to create specialty blades for other vendors.

IBM determined the best answer was to open up its technology. This is
something to which the company, which opened up its POWER microprocessor architecture earlier this year, is no stranger.

The ability to saturate the market with its IP means more market share in a
tightly fought race between blade server leaders IBM and HP, which seem to
flip-flop leadership positions based on Gartner and IDC estimates.

“We are capitalizing on the leadership we’ve established in the blade
market,” Dougherty told internetnews.com. “I think we’re beyond
the early adopter phase of blades and ready for the masses to adopt them. And
to make that happen we need a broader ecosystem.”

Accordingly, IBM and Intel will provide technical support to assist product
development, including design guidelines and fee-based support from IBM’s
Engineering & Technology Services organization.

Dougherty agreed that expanding the market will help IBM gain more traction
against chief blade rival HP, which, until 2004, had led the blade server
market.

However, IBM’s improvements to its BladeCenter and willingness to
trot out new variations have caused customers looking for alternative
computing machines to take a hard look at Big Blue. By Dougherty’s own
admission, IBM went from a “standing start” a year and half ago to selling
more than 100,000 Intel Xeon blade systems.

This is good for an almost 44 percent market share, according to second
quarter 2004 numbers from IDC, with HP trailing at 32 percent.

More broadly, interest in blades is on the rise, as IDC recently estimated
that blade servers will account for one out of every four servers sold by
2007.

This article was originally published on internetnews.com.

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