The Big Rival
IBM may be king of the hill, but HP’s continues its swift ascent. Like IBM, it is experiencing strong growth in data center deployment of blade servers.
“Blades are about infrastructure, not servers,” says Rick Becker, vice president and general manager for HP’s BladeSystem. “HP BladeSystem includes storage, virtualization, networking, and management.”
As such, HP is targeting its blade development efforts toward many of the areas Gartner’s Enck cites. In particular, it is focusing investment dollars in power and cooling. According to Becker, HP is taking a more holistic view of power efficiency, looking to find ways to optimize performance, density, and power usage for individual processors, as well as the data center as a whole.
Although HP manufactures quad-processor blades, Becker reports that dual-processor models remain best sellers. The ProLiant BL20p with two Intel Xeon processors, for example, far outsells any other HP blade. And this spring, HP became the first vendor to release blades with dual-core AMD Opteron processors — the 2-way ProLiant BL25p and BL35p, and the 4-way BL45p. The BL35p rapidly became HP’s No. 2 blade in terms of unit sales.
Like IBM’s Dougherty, Becker sees adoption across a wide spectrum of small and large enterprises. The company is especially seeing adoption across segments, such as financial, healthcare, manufacturing, internet gaming, and IT service providers. Becker sees the field moving toward greater integration, modularity, virtualization, and automation as a means of reducing the management load associated with manual support tasks.
“The marketplace requires more built-in intelligence, adaptive awareness, and menu-driven simplicity in order to free IT resources for revenue bearing projects,” he says. “With management built into every component, blades can identify the locations of all resources connected to the intelligent infrastructure and facilitate advanced monitoring, control, and change.”
Despite strong growth, however, blades represent a mere 3.6 percent of overall server market revenue. Blades after all, are still a fairly new technology. Therefore, customers should pay close attention to system selection, as components are not swappable between competing systems.
“Blades remain highly proprietary — no vendor and no technology dominates the market right now,” says Enck. “We remain far away from real or de facto standards.”
Enterprises, therefore, should look for a system with enough breadth to meet all of their needs rather than having to support multiple architectures. To that end, IBM is working to assemble an alliance of vendors supporting its BladeCenter platform. The community, which launched in July, has Brocade, Cisco, Citrix Systems, IBM, Intel, NetApp, Nortel, Novell, and VMware as founding members.
“This community will focus on spurring development and innovation around blade technology and will enable BladeCenter ecosystem partners to test and interoperate their products on BladeCenter,” says Dougherty.
HP, meanwhile, has a similar program called the HP BladeSystem Solution Builder, which includes some of the same vendors as IBM’s group. Becker anticipates eventually standards will arrive to unite all vendors.
“HP sees 2006 as a year of many transitions to new industry standard technologies and innovations,” he says. “As we have always done with our HP ProLiant portfolio, we will continue to innovate on standards and respond to the needs of our customers with new technologies that maximize their value.”