IBM officials positioned the move as one that was necessary to grow the market from the "early adopter" phase to the "mass adopter" phase. With the specifications—which Intel Corp. and IBM plan to provide royalty-free—customers can design their own platforms around IBMs blades, executives said.
"One of the things weve begun talking about is what other things you can do to make the market expand," sad Tim Dougherty, director of strategy for IBMs eServer group. The companys attitude toward opening up the blade infrastructure is analogous to its support of the open-source Linux operating system, he said.
Although analysts said Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM owns the majority of the blade market, competitors also offer their own proprietary designs.
Dougherty said the company is deliberately shying away from trying to make a dominant product an industry standard, as he said Cisco and Microsoft have tried to do with their switches and operating systems, respectively.
In some sense, IBM is taking the value that it adds to the blades–including the switches, adapter cards, appliances and communication blades–and swapping it for an opportunity to sell more BladeCenter chasses and management modules, analysts and executives said. IBM and Intel have collaborated on blade designs since they began jointly developing the IBM BladeCenter in 2002.
"Our role in jointly designing and developing this specification is to help broaden the adoption of blades and grow the market," sad Erica Fields, a spokeswoman for Santa Clara, Calif.-based Intel. Intel resells the BladeCenter chasses through its white-box channel, along with custom-designed boards and its own microprocessors.
White-box server manufacturers, meanwhile, are sick of the proprietary standard used by blade makers, said Mike McLaughlin, a server analyst with Gartner Inc. in San Jose, Calif. "But Im not quite sure that open-sourcing their blade designs is the answer," he said. "I dont immediately see the business proposition."
The specifications will cover three areas: the BladeCenter switching framework; the blade adapter framework, including the I/O; and the design of the blade itself. "A number of companies have come to us in the [server] appliance space and said, We would really like to be in the blade form factor," Dougherty said.
Although IBM is working with Intel to open up the blade designs, IBM is not making any distinctions between blades based on the Xeon or based on the Power architecture, Dougherty said, adding, "A blade is a blade is a blade."
Third-party OEMs may download the specifications from either Intel or IBM after signing a license agreement. Basic support will be offered for free from the Blade Open Specification Enablement Support Center (BOSESC). More detailed questions will be charged fees, with support provided by IBMs Engineering and Technology Services (E&TS) business.