Lenovo Brings Blades to the Desktop

The company will market and sell ClearCube's PC blades and management software.

Now that blades have proved themselves efficient and cost-effective alternatives in data centers, OEMs are looking to give businesses the option of bringing similar technology to the client environment.

Lenovo Group Ltd., fresh off its purchase of IBMs PC business, this week will announce a reseller agreement with ClearCube Technology Inc., an Austin, Texas, company at the forefront of PC blade technology. At the same time, systems makers IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., and Dell Inc., of Round Rock, Texas, say some customers are using their blade servers to create a bladed PC environment.

The deal between Lenovo and ClearCube will let Lenovo market and sell ClearCube-branded PC blades and management software, a move that will help customers in a number of businesses, including health care, financial services and government, Lenovo officials said.

They said the addition of PC blades to their portfolio is part of an overall strategy launched by Lenovo when it bought IBMs PC division in May for $1.75 billion to offer a wide variety of options. Such a strategy will help Lenovo, now the worlds third-largest PC vendor, differentiate itself from rivals Dell and Hewlett-Packard Co.

PC blades are housed in a centrally stored chassis and hold the key components of the PC, such as the processors, memory, hard drives and applications. ClearCube has pioneered the technology, although HP entered the game last year with its Consolidated Client Infrastructure. ClearCubes offerings include an interface on the back of the chassis, called BackPack, that supplies external connections for the blades, and the Command Port, which provides the connection to a users desktop. The blades can be managed via the companys ClearCube Management Suite.

The technology is similar to thin clients, which also offload key PC components to a back-end server. A primary difference is that while many thin-client users are connected to one shared server, in most PC blade environments, each user is connected to a separate blade. Blades also give users a fuller PC environment, Lenovo officials said. HP offers both blades and thin clients. Lenovo, through the IBM deal, also has a reseller agreement with thin-client vendor Neoware Systems Inc.

Ken Knotts, senior technologist with ClearCube, said initial interest in PC blades centered on cost reduction but in recent years has shifted to security and management. The blades can be centrally managed, and, because the applications, data and hard drives are stored away from users, security is improved.

Oklahoma Heart Hospital has been using ClearCube PC blades for three years and now has about 140 blades running, said Jeff Jones, lead systems engineer. Initially, the Oklahoma City hospital brought in the technology for health reasons—blades located in a server room mean that no system fans are in the operating or patient rooms, Jones said. The hospital since has realized security benefits and, because of rapid growth at the hospital, space advantages.

"We dont have a lot of space here," Jones said. "Were doubling some spaces [with] two people to an office. Were trying to cram a lot of people into a small space. [Having the PC blades] makes for a lot cleaner space."

Susan Whitney, general manager of IBMs eServer xSeries, said in a recent interview that over the past couple of years some customers have been looking to their BladeCenter blade servers to create bladed client environments for increased flexibility and security and reduced costs. IBM Global Services, in conjunction with such partners as virtual machine vendor VMware Inc., is working on programs to help customers create such environments, Whitney said.

Officials with Dell said some customers—particularly in the federal government, where security and space are key issues—have expressed interest in creating a blade client environment using the PowerEdge 1855 blade.


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