AOL Signs on for New IBM Blade Server

IBM Tuesday continued to pepper the
hardware landscape with server blade announcements, as the Armonk, N.Y. firm
unveiled its thinnest server to date and named AOL Time Warner as its one of
its new major customers. Big Blue is positioning the blade as one of the
most powerful in a sector populated by products from HP, Compaq and Dell.

IBM is gearing its eServer BladeCenter line for the enterprise, to help
businesses pare back the total cost of ownership. As many as 84 blades can
fit into the BladeCenter rack chassis, making the technology a true
plug-and-play design.

Borrowing features across Big Blue’s server line, IBM BladeCenter offers the
ability to purchase redundant hot-swap cooling, power and management modules
as well as other automatic failover components, so there is no single point
of failure.

In another key development, the IBM system supports integrated features such
as optional fibre switches, which reduces the barrier to entry for fibre
connect SAN storage. BladeCenter paves the way for
future input/ouput capabilities such as InfiniBand and
networking upgrades.

In true competitive fashion, Jeff Benck, director of IBM eServer xSeries,
noted that its new BladeCenter capacity fits 36 more blades per rack
than a competing HP ProLiant BL20p system. Moreover, he said its new system
is faster than HP’s system because it uses the Intel Xeon processor. HP
systems, like many others, use Intel’s Pentium 3 processor.

HP , which said it recently reached a milestone in its enterprise blade
server product line by becoming the first vendor to surpass 1,800 blades
sales per month, fired back early Tuesday.

HP spokesman Tim Willeford said: “The HP ProLiant BL20p server provides superior levels of availability and system level performance for true enterprise class applications. When configuring the IBM blade solution to include these key features, the actual density of the IBM solution is less than the BL20p (only 42 IBM blades versus 48 HP blades).”

Dr. Norman Koo, Executive Director at AOL Time Warner, said BladeCenter
appeared to be a good fit for many of its applications, although this does
not necessarily mean that IBM will be the exclusive provider of blades for
the giant.

“We expect to deploy a considerable number of integrated enterprise blade
solutions across AOL Time Warner in order to maintain our competitive edge
and simplify our infrastructure,” Koos said.

Benck told that AOL had tested its BladeCenter in
several of its divisions before making a decision. Benck declined to say how
many BladeCenter systems AOL purchased, but noted that AOL was interested in
BladeCenter for its potential to accommodate advanced networking solutions,
such as going beyond a Layer 2 switch. On this note, IBM is working closely
with Cisco and Nortel.

IBM has also received support for its BladeCenter from Microsoft, which
vowed to bring out Microsoft Exchange 2000 software on BladeCenter later
this quarter.

Giga Information Group analyst Richard Fichera counted the deal as another
win for IBM, which just last week
agreed to team on blade server research and development.

“In general, assuming that you are not sacrificing features or performance
and can manage them, more is better. IBM’s blades are very powerful 2-way
SMPs, more powerful than Compaq’s,” Fichera told
“I’m impressed with the whole package. While Compaq may catch up in the next
couple of quarters, right now IBM has a slight edge – more powerful blades,
more storage options, higher density, FC [fibre channel] switch option.”

Big Blue also took the occasion to announce a refresh for its management
software, IBM Director 4.1. This software provides
customers with autonomic blade management including a single point of
deployment and management. It also includes automated
set-up and configuration wizards to deploy and maintain hundreds of blades.

Fichera approved of this as well: “Their management software looks very very
good, and well integrated with the rest of the product line, negating an
advantage that I thought Compaq might have had. However, from a strategic
Compaq’s offering and roadmap is strong enough that I would not expect
long-standing Compaq partners to abandon Compaq just because IBM has a lead
now in blades.”

Slated to ship in November at a base price of $1,879, IBM BladeServer will
support Linux, Microsoft Windows and Novell Netware.

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