Enterprise blade server users will see their options grow as Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM extend their respective hardware options and management software capabilities for the slim form factor.
HP later this year plans to roll out the first of its ProLiant blade servers powered by Advanced Micro Devices Inc.s 64-bit Opteron processor. At the same time, the Palo Alto, Calif., company will bulk up the capabilities of its SIM (Systems Insight Manager) software to make it easier for IT administrators to oversee scale-out environments, in which blades play a significant role.
HP is not alone in its push toward the Opteron. Over the past year, competitors such as Sun Microsystems Inc. have been aggressively adopting the AMD processors. For example, Sun has rolled out single-, dual- and quad-processor Opteron systems. The Santa Clara, Calif., company will build on that momentum next year with Opteron-based eight-way systems and blades, Sun officials said.
Still, blades account for about 8 percent of all volume servers that HP sells, said Rick Becker, vice president and general manager of HPs BladeSystem Division. By 2008, HP hopes to grow that number to 50 percent.
Market researcher IDC, of Framingham, Mass., estimates that blades will account for 29 percent of all servers shipped by 2008.
HP will begin the rollout of its Opteron systems later this year with a two-way blade. That will be followed early next year by a high-performance system—a two-way blade thats attached to another such system, with processors and memory linked via AMDs HyperTransport technology.
HP will follow that release with the launch of a high-density system, Becker said.
All of HPs new blades also will be able to fit AMDs dual-core Opterons, which are expected to be released in mid-2005.
Also next year, HP plans to ship blades that feature Intel Corp.s "Nocona" Xeon chips, which, like AMDs Opteron, can run 32- and 64-bit applications. As with the Opteron, HP is but one of many OEMs, most notably IBM and Dell Inc., planning to incorporate Nocona chips into their traditional servers and blades.
On the management front, HP plans to roll out in December enhancements to its SIM platform, including the BladeSystem Wizard. The wizard is a user interface that provides quick access to tools needed for installing, provisioning and deploying blades. Currently in beta, the wizard makes those jobs as easy as clicking on a couple of buttons, officials said.
HP is also integrating its Rapid Deployment Pack offering with SIM. In addition, SIM will be able to manage VMware Inc.s ESX and GSX and Microsoft Corp.s upcoming Virtual Server virtual machines.
Outsourcer CenterBeam Inc. runs HP blades in its operations. Shahin Pirooz, vice president for professional services for the San Jose, Calif., company, said users are looking for easier ways to manage the systems.
"Server blades are a strategic technology for CenterBeam," Pirooz said. "They let us save money by significantly reducing the footprint and electrical requirements for our data center. Server blades also let us quickly scale our operations. ... The market will be very favorable towards anything that helps accelerate the time it takes to put a blade in production."
For its part, IBM earlier this month rolled out five new models of its BladeCenter HS20 servers armed with Nocona chips, ranging from 2.8GHz to 3.6GHz. The Noconas feature Intels EM64T (Extended Memory 64 Technology), enabling them to run 32- and 64-bit software.
In addition, IBM is attaching compact SCSI drives to the blades. The drives offer users greater capacity and speed than IDE drives while enabling them to put more blades into a chassis, said Tim Dougherty, director of BladeCenter strategy.
The Armonk, N.Y., company is also upgrading its JS20 blade server with a faster processor, a 2.2GHz Power5 chip and the ability to support IBMs AIX-5L Unix operating system.
When it comes to managing blade networking, IBM has also released software called Update Express that checks Fibre Channel and Ethernet blade connections, as well as such components as the BIOS and operating system. Initially, Update Express will work with systems running Windows, but, by the end of the year, it also will include Linux, Dougherty said.
Next month, IBM will launch PowerExecutive to enable users to quickly shift power levels. During off-peak hours, blades that consume the largest amount of power can be powered down, and during an outage, power can automatically be shifted to those systems running mission-critical applications.
Sharpening their blades
Opteron-based blades due at end of year
New blade management and deployment capabilities integrated into SIM due in December
Upgraded Intel and Power-based blades and embedded SCSI drives available now
New software updating and power management features due next month