Blade servers are touted as an ideal solution for companies seeking to consolidate servers and free up space in their data centers. Early system designs from startup companies, such as RLX Technologies Inc., could pack more than 300 servers into a 6-foot-tall industry-standard rack originally designed to hold 42 servers based on the 1U chassis. The 1U, previously the thinnest rack-mounted server available, is a pizza-box shaped system measuring only 1.75 inches thick that was designed to be stacked one atop another, rather than as separate platforms that would otherwise take up floor space.IBM contends its relatively heftier blades, which will offer about double the density of 1U servers, will appeal to larger corporations that want to use the servers to run more business-critical applications, such as IBMs WebSphere or SAP ecommerce software. "Six to 12 months ago, everyone was talking about blades as simply a density play," Dougherty said. "But the reality is that high density addresses only a small market niche. The reality isand we validated this through a lot of customer interactionthat companies want to know how they can consolidate 35,000 Microsoft Exchange users running on hundreds of machines into one place. Our solution will be able to do that." While IBM and Intel contend their partnership will enable them to more effectively develop enterprise-class blade servers, the deal could also pit Big Blue against rivals selling nearly identical hardware purchased from Intel. "We expect people to take these building blocks and develop product offerings based on them," Dougherty said. "But we believe the value proposition that we bring to the table, with our software and services offerings, is how well distinguish ourselves in the marketplace."
But early blades used less powerful, cooler-running processors that, while well-suited for easing potential overheating problems, were a poor fit for handling compute-intensive business applications.