IBM Touts Blade Server

The new system, the IBM Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure, was announced in October at VMworld 2005 in Las Vegas. It pairs an IBM xSeries or BladeCenter server with preintegrated versions of VMware&'s virtual infrastructure software and Citrix&'s Presentation Server.

Like other desktop blade servers, the system from IBM, Armonk, N.Y., will host a desktop environment for client systems. Where it differs from competitors is its use of virtualization to host the environment. Using that technology, one blade can support as many as 12 to 15 desktop environments, said Juhi Jotwani, director of BladeCenter and xSeries solutions for IBM. Other desktop blade servers map one blade to one client.

To optimize the hosted desktop environment, Jotwani said Citrix made some modifications to the Presentation Server to support network printing, USB ports and dual monitors. “Users can leverage the full capabilities of a desktop machine,” she said.

IBM currently is piloting the system with some clients through its Global Services division, Jotwani said. An IGS service offering is planned for the first quarter of 2006, and IBM also expects to offer the system to select partners at that time. Jotwani declined to provide pricing information.

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Desktop blade servers offer several advantages to potential customers. Because the desktop environment is hosted from a centralized server, the environment is more secure and easier for an IT staff to support. So far, this type of solution has been popular among health-care, financial, retail, telco and call-center verticals.

One solution provider that sets up such systems using Novell&'s ZENworks for virtualization in the health-care vertical said the solution makes sense in environments where several people access one computer.

Each time a user logs in on a system, their customized desktop is downloaded from the server, said Scott Holcomb, CEO of Holcomb Enterprises, Mission Viejo, Calif. “We can have various levels of supervisors to administrators to low-level guests operating on the same machine without risk that one operation from one level to other ever gets transferred,” he said.

Though the system may sound like a fancy thin-client solution, Brian Byun, vice president of products at VMware, Palo Alto, Calif., said there is more to consider. Thin clients have never been particularly effective outside of select verticals, particularly because of the dropping prices on desktops and the resistance of workers to give up dedicated storage, he said.

But Byun said there are other options for the bundle as well. The environment is flexible enough so users can set up different kinds of virtualized environments if necessary. For example, Byun said one offshore developer is using a virtualized desktop for development, where the data can be backed up regularly and intellectual property protected. But many of those developers work on full PCs with another partitioned desktop for other business uses.

IBM competitors Hewlett-Packard, with its Consolidated Client Infrastructure, and ClearCube currently offer one-to-one desktop blade solutions.

Pund-IT analyst Charles King said IBM&'s key differentiator is its virtualized environment. The pitch, he said, is providing customers a way to host 12 to 15 desktops on one server blade. “You are getting a higher level of server utilization with a model like that,” he said. “It is a thrifty way of providing desktop support for clients.” King noted that tools also are available so IT staff can reallocate a server blade at times when desktop environments aren&'t in use.