IBM Blades Destined for Rackable Modular Data Center

By Scott Ferguson  |  Posted 2008-07-28

IBM Blades Destined for Rackable Modular Data Center

IBM and Rackable Systems have inked a new agreement that will allow Rackable to pack IBM's BladeCenter systems in its modular data center for the first time.

The agreement, which the two companies are expected to announce July 28, will allow Rackable to offer IBM's BladeCenter T and HT blade chassis within its own ICE (Integrated Concentro Environment) Cube modular data center, which had previously used only Rackable's specially designed rack-mount servers.

While still considered an up-and-coming product for the enterprise, these types of modular data centers are being touted as a way for companies to gain additional computing power for a range of projects, including disaster recovery, Web 2.0 applications, cloud computing infrastructures and high-performance computing.

While Rackable and Sun Microsystems were the first to offer these dense, portable data centers, IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Verari Systems have now all come on board with their own modular data centers, which has loaned a great deal of credibility to what is still considered a small and untested market.

The agreement between Rackable and IBM not only presents an expanded option for customers interested in this type of data center for Web 2.0 and cloud computing but also shows how IBM is looking to expand the use of its blade architecture beyond its original proprietary model.

The agreement with Rackable follows a deal IBM cut with Themis Computer that allows that company to use the IBM BladeCenter chassis design to create a new type of blade server for rugged environments and military use. (Themis also contracted with Sun to use Sun's UltraSPARC T2 processor with the new blade design.)

IBM first began opening up its BladeCenter architecture in 2004.

"This is a very interesting collaboration between competitors," said Jed Scaramella, an analyst with IDC. "For a number of years, IBM led the blade market, but now HP has taken over the lead. I think this strategy by IBM to open up its blade architecture and make it widely available through companies like Rackable is another way to start selling more blades."

In the first quarter of 2008, HP controlled 46.9 percent of worldwide blade shipments, while IBM had a 30 percent share, according to IDC. In the first quarter of 2007, IBM's percentage was 35 percent, which shows that it has continued to lose market share to HP, and agreements with Rackable and Themis could help shore up IBM's place in the blade market.

Rackable Can Offer Broader Range of Systems


For Rackable, the deal allows it to contract with a Tier 1 vendor to offer a broader range of systems within its ICE Cube data center.

In addition, since the IBM BladeCenter HT systems have NEBS (Network Equipment-Building System) and other telecommunications certifications, Rackable can sell its ICE Cube to telecoms, oil and gas companies, and other enterprises that operate data centers in harsher environments than those found in typical data centers. (The BladeCenter chassis also use DC power.)

The agreement also gives Rackable access to IBM's Tivoli management software. In a fully configured Rackable ICE Cube, a customer can pack as many as 1,344 dual-socket IBM blades using quad-core Xeon processors or 672 four-socket systems that use dual-core Advanced Micro Devices Opteron chips.

"I think the added value that this agreement will give to our customers is that they will have access to enterprise-class blades that can support a number of workloads for users in telecom, oil and gas, and the military," said Tony Carrozza, senior vice president for sales and marketing for Rackable.

While IBM and Rackable have painted the agreement as a boon for both themselves and customers, the two companies are also competitors within this new modular data center space. IBM recently announced its own portable data center that uses its iDataPlex array for building cloud infrastructures and supporting Web 2.0 environments.

"There will be times when we will be competing against one another, but, on the other hand, it will be the customer that makes the decision on what type of product they want as their solution," said Tim Dougherty, director of BladeCenter strategy for IBM.

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