IBM is teaming with VMware Inc. and Citrix Systems Inc. to create a hosted client environment based on its BladeCenter blade servers.
IBMs Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure, being announced Wednesday at the VMworld 2005 show in Las Vegas, marks the companys first step back into the client space since it sold its PC business to Lenovo Group Ltd. earlier this year.
It also follows through on several strategy initiatives at IBM, including greater use of virtualization and the expansion of its blade form factors.
The offering will work in a fashion similar to PC blades and thin clients, according to Juhi Jotwani, director of xSeries and BladeCenter solutions at IBM. Centrally located blade servers running VMwares virtual machine technology will house the critical components—such as the memory and processors—and data, which desktop users could access from a desktop device via Citrixs Presentation Server.
It will have all the benefits of thin clients and PC blades—better security and easier manageability—while giving users what they need on the desktop. The data is housed in a central location, and having the blades in one place means that if there is an upgrade or problem that needs fixing, it can be done in one place rather than forcing technicians to go to each desktop individually.
"It gives the users full desktop functionality from pretty much any access device," such as a thin-client appliance or desktop PC, Jotwani said.
The virtualization on the blades also gives IT managers better utilization of their hardware than with PC blades, said Brian Byun, vice president of products at VMware. While most PC blades offer one blade for each user, a BladeCenter server blade running VMwares virtualization technology can host 10 to 15 users at a time, and can be dynamically reallocated as needed, Byun said.
Each IBM BladeCenter chassis holds up to 14 blades.
"It really is a nice hybrid [thin clients and PC blades] that we think is going to take off," Byun said.
Jotwani said it will be attractive to such industries as financial services, telecommunications, retail and hospitals.
IBM Global Services is currently enrolling businesses for a pilot program. Its planned to be generally available in the first quarter of 2006. Jotwani said IBM will expand the offering beyond blades and into other Intel Corp.-based xSeries systems in the future.
IBM is entering a space that already has a number of players, such as Neoware Systems Inc. and Wyse Technology Inc. ClearCube Technology Inc. is the pioneer in the PC blade space, though Hewlett-Packard Co., with its Consolidated Client Infrastructure, offers both PC blades and thin clients.
Charles King, an analyst with Pund-IT Research Inc., said IBM is offering an interesting alternative with its Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure. It is partnering with two well-established companies and is offering an environment based on Intels Xeon server processors.
"Its basically based on existing hardware," said King, in Hayward, Calif. "Basically, this is being done with two very well-respected partners. Its not like they had to go to the well and get a completely new bucket of water. This is a new way of leveraging an established technology solution."
It also answers some of the criticisms of hosted client offerings, including the lack of a full desktop environment on some thin clients and the need for a one-to-one user-to-blade ratio in some PC blade products.