Hosted IBM Offering Runs on Blades, VMs

New environment marks company's first move in client space since Lenovo deal.

IBM is teaming with VMware Inc. and Citrix Systems Inc. to create a hosted client environment based on IBMs BladeCenter blade servers.

IBMs Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure, announced last week at the VMworld 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 expanding its blade form factors.

The offering will work in a similar fashion to PC blades and thin clients, said 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 Presentation Server from Citrix, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

It will have the benefits of thin clients and PC blades—better security and easier manageability—while giving users what they need on the desktop. "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, of Palo Alto, Calif. 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 as many as 14 blades.

"It really is a nice hybrid [of thin clients and PC blades] that we think is going to take off," Byun said.

IBM Global Services is currently enrolling businesses for a pilot program. Its planned to be generally available in the first quarter of next year. Jotwani said IBM, of Armonk, N.Y., will expand the offering beyond blades and into other Intel Corp.-based xSeries systems in the future.

Companies such as Neoware Systems Inc. and Wyse Technology Inc. dominate the thin-client market. 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, said IBM is offering an interesting alternative with its Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure.

"Its 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 1-1 user-to-blade ratio in some PC blade products.

Hosted clients The ingredients for IBMs Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure:
  • IBM BladeCenter blade servers and, later, xSeries systems
  • VMware Virtualization technology for greater server use
  • Citrix Presentation Server enables remote desktop capabilities