Will Blade Servers Make The Cut?

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Major vendors are pushing blade servers, but the hard part,educating the channel and customers,is only just beginning.

Essentially a server built onto a card that plugs into a backplane, this new product allows for greater server density than a traditional rack-mount server. Blade servers enable companies to get more power using the same amount of space. Houston-based vendor RLX Technologies, for example, fits up to 336 servers in a standard rack.

Solution providers see great potential for the blade server market.

RLX System 324

Don McDowell, vice president of server solutions at Forsythe Solutions Group, Skokie, Ill., said the manageability, security and small footprint of blade servers will make them ideal for server farms.

"However, tier-one manufacturers are just starting to show up with products," McDowell said. "We and our customers are just starting to understand where [blade servers are useful."

Charlie Cohen, sales engineer for solution provider Media Integration, Soquel, Calif., said blade servers hold appeal for dense data centers or rack cages but are still some time away from being widely accepted.

"We have one customer using 1U enclosures with four servers inside," Cohen said. "They're getting 12 servers into 3U of space without the fancy schmancy technology. And it works. Blades seem like an elegant solution, but customers are not asking for them yet."

Blade servers offer a significant opportunity for the channel, said McDowell. "It's not just plopping some blades into a box," he said. "There's still a lot of integration issues, and vendors will need partners."

Several vendors, ranging from tier-ones to start-ups, are preparing to enter the market this year, and a few are already into their second generation of products.

>> Tier-one vendors including Compaq, HP Sun, IBM and Dell are introducing products this year.
>> Specialty vendors such as RLX already have products available.


Mellanox Technologies, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based developer of InfiniBand logic, today unveiled a reference design for OEMs looking to build InfiniBand switch, server and I/O blades running at bandwidths of up to 10 Gbps. Kevin Deierling, vice president of product marketing at Mellanox, expects the first InfiniBand blades to be available from OEMs in midyear.

Last month, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq Computer unveiled blade server products within a day of each other, with shipments expected to start this month.

HP's lineup includes a 6U, CompactPCI-based chassis with space for up to 24 blades, including server, storage, I/O, switch and management blades. Initial blades include a uniprocessor Pentium-based Linux server blade, an IDE disk blade, a Gigabit Ethernet blade and the management blade. HP expects them to be compliant with the NEBS telecommunications standard.

Compaq last month unveiled a virtual data center architecture that allows scalable server networks based on industry-standard technology using server blades, which can be dynamically reallocated for specific tasks as needed. The company also introduced its QuickBlade ProLiant BL line of server blades.

RLX, which already ships blade servers based on low-power Transmeta processors, last month updated its product line to include 667MHz processors and 1 Gbyte of memory per blade. The company now allows six blades to fit in a 1U enclosure or 24 blades in a 3U enclosure. RLX plans to start recruiting sales agents and solution providers this month to create an indirect channel for its products, said John Schmitz, director of product marketing.

Sun Microsystems has been selling a NEBS-certified blade server product for about a year, said Colin Fowles, director of the blades business team at the company's Volume Systems Products Group. The company expects to unveil SPARC-based Solaris blade servers in a 3U format by year's end, he said.

IBM resells RLX server blades and plans to offer its own two-way server blades by the third quarter, said Tom Bradicich, director of architecture and design for IBM eServer xSeries servers. Four-way blades will follow shortly. The servers will include the self-healing and self-diagnosis capabilities of the company's other server lines, he said.

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