Looking to succeed where others have failed, Hewlett-Packard Co. on Tuesday unveiled a new high-density server it contends addresses major customer concerns that undermined earlier rivals efforts to successfully market "blade" systems.
By basing its blades on CompactPCI (an existing standards-based architecture), and using Intel processors in a less tightly packed design capable of handling heavier workloads than previous offerings, HP said it is confident it can win over corporate customers that have so far steered clear of adopting the ultra-thin servers.
"Those are just a few of several things that will set us apart from those early players," said Mark Hudson, an HP worldwide marketing manager for the Palo Alto, Calif., company. "A large established vendor like HP can also offer a higher level of service and support smaller startups just cant match."
In addition, HPs more flexible design will enable it to target a much wider audience than previous offerings.
"Unlike those start-up companies that mostly went after dot-coms and Internet service providers with systems primarily designed to be only used as Web servers, were targeting telecommunication companies and Fortune 1000 companies who are looking for full-service servers they can use to build out their Internet infrastructures," Hudson said.
And while startups have received a chilly reception from customers that has resulted in slow sales, Hudson said the computer maker expects that corporate IT managers will soon warm up to the new architecture and begin to roll it out.
"This market is not going to shoot up like a rocket, but it is going to grow over the next several years," he said. "Its still projected to be a multibillion-dollar opportunity."
Hudson cited market research released by International Data Corp. earlier this year that predicted that by 2005, blade server sales would top $100 billion.
Blade servers first arrived on the market early this year. Offered solely by startup companies, the proprietary ultra-thin designs essentially reduced a server to little more than a processor and motherboard. Early proponents of the new high-density architecture had hoped enterprise users struggling to ease space constraints within their data centers would quickly embrace the systems.
A system offered by RLX Technologies Inc. highlighted the advantages of the new design, packing a whopping 324 blade servers into a industry-standard rack originally designed to hold 42 1U servers. 1U servers, measuring only 1.75 inches thick, were previously the thinnest rack-mounted server available.
But despite early industry buzz, sales have fallen flat, forcing some vendors into bankruptcy, including Canadian-based Rebel.com and FiberCycle Networks, based in Los Gatos, Calif. While RLX, perhaps the best known blade proponent, remains in business, the company, based in The Woodlands, Texas, has struggled as well, undergoing a senior management shakeup and layoffs in recent months.
One of the major problems with the early designs, said an HP executive, was that they used processors from relative newcomer Transmeta Inc. While Transmetas Crusoe processor offered the low-power consumption and cooler operating temperatures that system makers desired, the designs marked the first time the chip, designed for mobile and handheld devices, was ever used in servers.
"The startups were trying to enter the market with a processor that really didnt have any track record," said Brian Cox, entry-level server marketing manager for HP. "Conservative corporate IT managers are looking for technologies that have been proven and tested in a mission critical environment."
Thats why HP use Intel 700MHz Pentium III processors paired with the chipmakers 440GX chip set, Cox said, contending that corporate customers have traditionally shown a preference to using Intel Corp. products.
Overall, HPs high-density server is based upon a 13U chassis design. Each chassis will hold 16 server blades, 16 I/O storage slots and six networking/management blade slots. Customers will be able to stack three of the 13U chassis in an industry standard rack, giving them a total of 48 servers.
While thats far less than previous offerings from startup companies, HP said the inclusion of storage, networking and management slots enable the servers to tackle more complex tasks than simple Web hosting.
In addition, HP will upgrade the blade system during the first quarter of next year using a new Intel chip set that will support dual processors, boosting the systems chip capacity to 96 CPUs.
Eventually, HP representatives said, the company plans to eventually integrate Intels more powerful Xeon and 64-bit Itanium processors into its blade architecture.
The base price for the system starts at $9,450, and includes one 13U chassis, one server blade and one management blade. Prices for a 48-CPU configuration start at $138,615.
HP is now taking orders for the system and says it will begin shipping the systems in volume in January.
While a fully configured blade system may initially cost more than a rack of 42 1U servers, Cox said the space saving design, lower energy consumption and management costs make the blade system a more cost-effective long-term solution.
"Just based on saved floor space and lower power consumption, were projecting that customers will save about 17 percent in operating costs over a three-year period," Cox said. "Add to that the easier manageability that should reduce demands on IT staff, and youll see that the blade architecture makes a lot of sense for a variety of users."