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 “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

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

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.

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