RealTime IT News

Alliance Sets Blade Standards In Motion

A partnership between two industry groups focused on blade server standards is just one of several advancements being announced this week that is expected to continue the validation of the slimmer server form factor and fuel corporate sales.

A blade server is an entire server that fits on a single card, or blade, which means that network interfaces, the CPU, the memory, and the hard disk are installed on the card.

The blades are plugged into a single chassis, where an IT manager can generally fit 16 server blades into the space previously occupied by a single server.

Blade computing is clearly on the rise and very popular among ISPs and ASPs for applications such as e-mail, Web hosting and domain name serving.

Analyst firm IDC reports that U.S. blade server sales in the first quarter of 2003 totaled $47 million, eclipsing about $43 million in revenue logged for all of 2002. IDC recently forecast the market to reach $3.7 billion in revenue by 2006 and $6 billion by 2007.

Manufacturers like IBM, HP, Dell and Sun Microsystems have all advanced their product lines to address the growth in this sector. Other vendors including QLogic, F5 Networks, Apple Computer, Avocent, nStor, SharkRack, Silicon Mechanics, XIOtech, and Unisys have made their presence known as well.

Chipmakers like Intel and AMD have also played their part in the development of blades. However, standardizing architectures continues to be a problem in the industry as previous attempts have been piecemeal at best.

"Because of thermal issues HP has become much more creative, and AMD's low cost 64 bit parts are moving against the more common Intel based solutions," Rob Enderle, Enderle Group founder and industry analyst told internetnews.com. "So we are all over the map right now and about to implement an entirely new architecture across all PC lines with PCI Express and others. That should keep this sector in turmoil for some time."

The alliance partnership announced Tuesday between Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) and Blade Systems Alliance (BladeS) is expected to help strengthen and speed the implementation of DMTF's server management and utility computing standards using the DMTF's Common Information Model (CIM).

CIM and Web Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) are the standards the server industry uses for the exchange of management information in a platform-independent and technology-neutral way.

Independent of the DMTF and BladeS, IBM chose to parlay its relationship with Intel to create a partnership in which the two companies share technology and development costs for blade server designs and drive a de facto standard. The Armonk, N.Y.-based company has made blade servers a cornerstone of its IBM xSeries (Intel) product line and is heavily pushing its BladeCenter along with larger SMP computers.

Dell is also championing the establishment of server management software standards, taking the lead with the DMTF. Analyst firm IMEX Research says there are many opportunities for Dell going forward.

"The blade server market will belong to vendors who can corral volume-driven economics inherent in blade servers. The challenge is up to Dell to harness this market with well-featured and positioned products," the analyst firm said in a newsletter to subscribers.

Much of the motivation to switch to blades includes UNIX to Linux migrations; effectiveness of open source Linux; growth of HPC Linux Clusters in academia, national laboratories for scientific computing and migrating to commercial world for Bioinformatics, decision support financials and visualization.

IMEX also points out that consolidation onto fewer servers added with virtualization software is a good cost savings motivator for some companies. The research firm said the standardization on fewer OS types for servers, storage and network protocols deployed is aiding in the upgrade.

As for who is winning the blade battle so far? Enderle all eyes should be on HP and Transmeta.

"They are doing some really interesting work with the thermals surrounding the blades to increase density and lower the cost, dramatically, of cooling the server room," he said. "They also seem to be doing the most out of the box thinking right now, in fact they are the only major player doing bladed desktops."

Still in a dogfight between IBM and HP, Enderle is calling this one in favor of IBM.

"I think HP is being vastly more creative, but IBM is doing a better job marketing their solutions and has the stronger services unit so it is a clear race between the two major players," he said.

IMEX also released blade server sales stats that point to IBM dominance. The company believes that by 2007, almost 25 percent of unit shipments will end up as blade configured servers.

The analyst firm also estimates Windows/Linux Server shipments will capture 85 percent of the worldwide market this year for servers using modular servers using both rack wide and blades server configurations.

As a way to show off the viability of blade systems BladeS is holding an interoperability demo at this week's Server Blade Summit 2004 featuring a clustered Intel-based blade server environment with stackable Fibre Channel switches connected to RAID storage systems.

The blade systems interoperability environment is designed for deployment in server farms at small/medium enterprises, using applications such as Microsoft Exchange and SQL Server configured for clustered failover resilience and scalable performance.

Also making headway at this week's Blade show is Fujitsu Microelectronics, which is debuting the first ever 12-port, single-chip 10 Gigabit Ethernet Layer-2 switch. The hardware features a wire- speed capacity of 240Gbps, along with a very low latency of only 450ns and includes SERDES and XAUI interfaces.