HP Hones Blade Server

High-density, ultrathin server based on CompactPCI and Intel chips.

Looking to succeed where others have failed, Hewlett-Packard Co. last week unveiled a high-density server it contends addresses major customer concerns that undermined earlier rivals efforts to successfully market blade systems.

By basing its blades on CompactPCI (a standards-based architecture) and using Intel Corp. processors in a less tightly packed design capable of handling heavier workloads than previous offerings, HP said it is confident it can win over corporate customers that so far have steered clear of adopting the ultrathin servers.

Also last week, Compaq Computer Corp., of Houston, in talking about new server software tools, said its previously announced ultradense server, code-named Quickblade, will debut early next year.

Officials with HP, of Palo Alto, Calif., said they expect the flexible design and the companys history as an established technology provider with strong service and support offerings to sway larger enterprises toward blade servers.

And while startups have seen slow sales, HP said it expects that IT managers will warm up to the architecture. Market research released by International Data Corp. earlier this year predicted that by 2005, blade server sales would top $100 billion.

While several companies contacted by eWeek expressed an interest in the new designs, none had yet adopted it.

"Were aware of blade server technology and are presently evaluating several machines in our test lab," said David Krane, a spokesman for the Internet search engine company Google Inc., based in Mountain View, Calif.

Blade servers first arrived on the market early this year. Offered solely by startup companies, the proprietary ultrathin designs reduced a server to little more than a processor and motherboard. Early proponents of the high-density architecture hoped enterprise users struggling to ease space constraints in data centers would embrace the systems.

A system offered by RLX Technologies Inc. packed 324 blade servers into an industry-standard rack originally designed to hold 42 1.75-inch servers. The 1.75-inch servers had been the thinnest rack-mounted servers available. But despite early buzz, sales have fallen flat, forcing some vendors into bankruptcy, including Rebel.com and FiberCycle Networks Inc. While RLX remains in business, the company, based in The Woodlands, Texas, has struggled as well, undergoing a senior management shake-up and layoffs in recent months.

A problem with the early designs, HP said, was that they used processors from relative newcomer Transmeta Corp., which marked the first time the chips designed for mobile and handheld devices were ever used in servers.

HP is using Intel 700MHz Pentium III processors paired with the chip makers 440GX chip set, said HP officials, saying that buyers have traditionally shown a preference for Intel products.

Overall, HPs high-density server is based on a 22.75-inch chassis design. Each chassis can hold 16 server blades, 16 I/O storage slots and six networking/management blade slots. Customers will be able to stack three of the 22.75-inch chassis in an industry-standard rack, giving them a total of 48 servers.

HP will upgrade the blade system during the first quarter using a new Intel chip set that will support dual processors, boosting the systems chip capacity to 96 CPUs. The price for the system starts at $9,450 and includes one 22.75-inch chassis, one server blade and one management blade. Prices for a 48-CPU configuration start at $138,615.