RealTime IT News

IBM Looks to Sharpen Blade's Edge

Is this the IBM PC all over again? IBM thinks there are some strong parallels.

The company that helped spawn the PC-compatible industry with the IBM PC back in 1981 thinks history will repeat itself with the blade industry and is ready for a similar expansion of competing players based on IBM's Blade architecture.

That standard architecture is promoted by IBM-sponsored Blades.org and a reference design developed by Intel. IBM already holds a 40.1 percent share of the blade server market, according to IDC, though HP is hot on its heels at 35.6 percent. Dell is number three at 11.1 percent.

"We believe we're starting to see a replay of what happened in the PC world," Tim Dougherty, director of IBM BladeCenter, told internetnews.com. "To make it happen in the data center you need openness and a standard design. We're offering that."

IDC expects the global market for blades from all vendors to grow to $10 billion by 2010. Looking to ride that expansion, IBM made several news announcement today that effect its own BladeCenter product line and its partners in Blade.org.

First, IBM said San Francisco-based venture capital firm Walden International plans to spend $100 million over the next five years investing in IBM BladeCenter partners. Walden plans to invest over 50 percent of the funds in Asia. VC firms have invested more than $1 billion in Blade.org companies to date, according to IBM.

Also, Lenovo, Bull, NCR and a dozen other companies have joined Blade.org. While Lenovo, and others may well be planning blade systems, the new members also include such firms a retail giant Walmart. A huge IT buyer, Walmart is unlikely to be offering blade systems for sale next to the DVD players and lawn chairs.

"They have more than a passing interest in this," said Dougherty. "They [Walmart] are big into things like open standards, and I believe this gives them a platform to influence where things go."

On the product front, IBM said on Monday it will formerly introduce the first 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch for blades from Blade Network Technologies, a former property of Nortel which maintains a minority investment.

Dougherty said the $4,995 switch has significant applications in areas like IPTV and video-on-demand. But for the broader market, he said the new switch greatly simplifies cabling and management issues. "It makes it simpler to have lots of blades and switches installed and have a single pipe out to the rack."

Analyst Charles King with Pund-IT Research, thinks the IBM/Intel/Blade.org standard has a chance to gain wider adoption as a de Facto blade standard.

"With Blade.org attracting more vendors, it begs an interesting question; whether a vendor stands more to gain by adopting an industry standard architecture than continuing on a proprietary path," King told internetnews.com. "With Intel firmly behind this, Blade.org has a chance to make a pretty big footprint.

"IBM has a fairly singular vision compared to other vendors when you look at the sheer variety they offer," King continued. "The message they're putting out to customers is not, one size fits all, but rather whatever your underlying need we have a solution to fit it."

Whichever the vendor, blade server cabinets offer the advantage of consolidating server resource to save space and simplify IT management. On the downside, that concentration requires a great amount of power and cooling, both in shorter supply in data centers today.

Because of those concerns, many installations can't fully populate their blade cabinets. "But we can demonstrate you can put more IBM blades in than in any other kind of server."

Dougherty blames chip makers for those constraints. "When we introduced our first BladeCenter, the average processor consumed 35 watts. Today, an average processor consumes 135 watts."