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Hardware Today: Vendors Sharpen Server Blade Offerings to Stay a Cut Above Page 2

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Like HP, RLX covers both the high end and the low end (after a start focusing on the low end); Egenera targets financial and other vertical markets with high-end offerings similar to IBM’s. Down the road, it’s not a far stretch to imagine market synergy resulting in IBM making a play for Egenera or HP making a play for RLX.

The following chart breaks out the offerings from the top blade vendors, in terms of revenue and mind share.

Server Blade Options



Max No.
of Blades per
Form Factor

Blade Models



Vendor Perks

IBM BladeCenter 14 per 7U HS20,
32-bit Xeon (HS line), 64-bit Power 970 (JS) High-end, mission-critical deployments Power 64-bit option; IBM’s mainframe experience and engineering budget; tightly partnered with Intel toward hardware standardization
HP ProLiant BL e 20 per 3U BL 10e G2 Pentium M Low-end edge, high-performance computing apps Varied, high-/low-end approach; manageability and ubiquity focus; desktop options; HP’s
budget and ability to juggle heterogeneous server lines
BL p
8 Xeon DP or 2
Xeon MP per 7U
BL20p G2,
2 (20 series) or 4 (40 series) Xeon High-performance computing apps
Dell 1655MC 6 per 3U 1655MC Two Pentium III Low-end edge, high-performance apps “Dell simple,” though Dell downplays blades’ importance
Egenera BladeFrame 24 2-way or 4-way servers per enclosure Cblade, Pblade, and Sblade Cblades (Control Blades)
and Sblades (Switch Blades) are farmed-out networking and storage
components. Pblades use 32-bit Xeon DP or MP. Each interoperates to
make Egenera blades tick.
High end, financial services in particular, with
innovative Processing Area Network (PAN) manager software.
Time in market; well-developed blade-specific PAN manager software; separate storage and network layers for a truly modular approach
BladeFrame ES 6 2-way or 4-way servers per enclosure Same as BladeFrame, but more compact
RLX 300ex 24 1-way per 3U 800i,
Low-voltage Pentium III High density blades for scale-out Time in market; number of models; variety of high- and low-end processor options; strong, blade-specific Control Tower management software
600ex 10 2-way per 6U 2600ie,
Single or dual Xeons of increasing power by model number High performance

Despite the nascent state of the blade space, these aren’t the only players. In mid-2003, when it last broke out blades, Gartner found that sales in the blade space mirrored the overall server market. Following Dell’s distant third to IBM and HP, was SPARC contender and x86 dabbler Sun. Gartner attributes this to perennial SPARC demand and a confused x86 strategy that focused on both AMD Athlon Mobile and Intel chips. Gartner placed RLX sixth worldwide, and Egenera, although not listed, was considered seventh.

Egenera stands apart from the crowd in terms of design and manageability, virtualizing all aspects of its blade architecture with its own design solutions. “That means getting rid of things like onboard disks or physical NIC cards,” says Susan Davis, Egenera vice president of marketing. “Those things give a server a fixed identity and make it a very static resource,” she added, “so what we did was take those things off the server and transform them into software, so you can centrally manage them.”

While it is accepted as an almost universal truth that management software differentiates one blade offering from another, another more basic differentiator for individual blades is coming back into play: heat and power.

Gartner has determined with certainty that blades in general offer a value proposition in terms of heat output and power used compared to traditional rack-mount counterparts. It also found results vary by vendor. Although Wright would not provide specifics, she said that an upcoming report will reveal which vendors have mastered the heat output/power usage equation better than others.

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