Big Blue Beefs Up BladeCenter

Touting nearly 50 takers on its opened BladeCenter specification since lastmonth, IBM said it is promoting the blade server platform further with newcapabilities to boost performance and capacity.

The company indicated this week it is now providing support for two smallform-factor SCSI drives in five new BladeCenter HS20 systems. The newcapability will allow BladeCenter to handle 14 SCSI-based blades, providingas much as 85 percent more speed and 83 percent more capacity than previousdrives, according to IBM.

Other improvements include more input/output (I/O)expansion and new power management software.

IBM is trying to capitalize on the growing blade server market. Although it generates less revenue than other server market segments, the blade segment is increasing in volume and value to vendors, IDC analyst Jean Bozman toldTechNewsWorld.

Blades Get Bigger

Bozman said that by 2006, blade servers — which perform networking and storageroles in a small and thin form factor — are expected to represent nearly 20percent of all server sales. In 2004 blades accounted for a high number ofshipments but only 8 percent of actual server revenue.

Bozman credited the growth to efforts such as IBM’s bolstered bladeofferings and its announcement with Intel last month to open the designspecifications for the eServer BladeCenter platform, an effort to encouragemore hardware support for blades.

“We do see them ramping up,” Bozman said of blade servers. “It’s gettingup there and it’s getting noticeable not just in units but in revenue aswell.”

Keeping Blade Lead

Bill Claybrook, president of New River Marketing Research, told TechNewsWorld that IBM will probably keep or grow its share of theblade server market — estimated by both IBM and analyst firms at more than40 percent — because competitors are not being as aggressive in the space.

“It seems like IBM’s BladeCenter product has taken off more than anyothers,” Claybrook said. “IBM is really the only company I know of that isreally pushing [blades].”

Claybrook, referring to blade offerings from HP, Dell and others,said the technology’s appeal may be limited — particularly for smallerbusinesses — by the prospect of having to buy an entire blade server chassis.

More Blades Better

Calling its BladeCenter improvements “a design breakthrough,” IBM saidsupport for as many as 14 SCSI-based blades exceeded the density of anycompeting product. The company said customers will also benefit from theability to mirror each blade’s operating system, simultaneously attaching toa storage area network (SAN) to run high-availability applications.

IBM also highlighted new I/O expansion flexibility in theBladeCenter HS20 that would allow the addition of two hot-swappable SCSIdisk drives while doubling the number of Ethernet or fiber-channel portconnections to each blade.

IBM also introduced new PowerExecutive power management software, aimedat reducing power use by evaluating each blade’s power use and reducinginfrastructure costs through better management of redundant power systems.

Maturing and Improving

Claybrook indicated that even though blade servers offer space and energysavings, IT managers and administrators are still learning how to maximizethe servers.

“The real problem is people haven’t really been able to figure out how touse them as much as they can,” Claybrook said. “It’s an immature technology,but it’s a very cost-effective one.”

Claybrook referred to management, heat control and other improvements inblade server technology, reiterating that as time and experience with thesmaller form factor servers continues, so will market significance.

“There are big improvements being made on them,” Claybrook said. “It’sreally a matter of IT managers figuring out how best to use them.”

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