Feeling The Heat

While IBM said its blade server business through the second quarter was up more than 140 percent from the year-earlier period, solution providers say they can't satisfy customers who require dual SCSI drives on BladeCenters without sacrificing blade server density because of potential overheating.

"We've tried to get some customers to boot off the SAN so they don't even need drives [in the BladeCenter], but some applications require dual local drives crunching numbers," said Joe Vaught, COO of PCPC, an IBM Business partner in Houston. "When that happens, we are at a standstill."

Vaught says an order with one customer for close to 5,000 IBM blade servers equipped with dual SCSI drives is on hold until the problem is resolved. He explained that IBM currently offers a daughter card on BladeCenter that allows a customer to run dual SCSI hard drives, but that option reduces the number of blades that can be used from 14 down to seven.

"You don't gain density when you do that, and it's not an option," Vaught said. "Everybody is out of room. We have to get this SCSI thing fixed, and when we do, it will really drive business."

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He said the drivers of new growth will be the convergence of 64-bit computing and the ability to put dual SCSI drives in the BladeCenter chassis. IBM promises that a fix to the existing SCSI drive problem is on the way.

"We understand that for some people, this was a limiting factor," said Tim Dougherty, director of IBM eServer BladeCenter marketing. He said that IBM plans to offer in the fourth quarter a redesigned BladeCenter board that accommodates dual SCSI drives without sacrificing server density.

"It turns out that it was a design issue, not a heat issue," Dougherty said. "What we needed to do is to get to a small form-factor SCSI, which is a recent phenomenon. You solve the problem by replacing the current [dual] IDE drives with SCSI drives. [The solution] is a new board that will go into any BladeCenter."

IBM's plans to build new momentum in the blade center market come as HP seeks to reinvigorate its own blade business with new channel rebates. Last week, HP added blade servers to its Enterprise Server and Storage (ESS) Elite rebate program. An HP spokesman said ESS Elite partners can get rebates of up to 4 percent for every blade product sold. The promotion runs from Aug. 1 through Oct. 31.

"At one point, HP owned the blade server market, and now it's IBM's market," said Bruce Geier, president and CEO of Technology Integration Group, a solution provider in San Diego. "HP's lack of focus on the market and no real reimbursements to partners to sell [blades] has moved people to selling IBM."

Geoffrey Lilien, the CEO of Lilien Systems, a Mill Valley, Calif.-based HP enterprise partner, said the HP move should inspire his sales force to sell a lot more blade servers. "There is a significant opportunity in blades," he said. "This means significant additional back-end margin."

Lilien said he is not concerned about the blade server heat issue because of HP's engineering expertise. "One thing HP has always been able to do well is engineering," he said. "Heating and cooling systems are things that HP really understands well. In my opinion, HP has superior blades than IBM."