HP, RLX Sharpen Blade Servers

The two companies this summer will roll out blade server technologies that offer increased processor density and management software.

Hewlett-Packard Co. and RLX Technologies Inc. this summer will roll out blade server technologies that offer increased processor density and management software.

The moves are the latest by major players in the nascent but increasingly competitive ultradense server arena, which International Data Corp. said could grow into a $4.5 billion market by 2005. Blade servers, introduced last year, are smaller than the previous generation of thin, rack-mounted servers, enabling customers to add more server boards into a chassis and dramatically boost computing power.

HP will sell the Compaq Computer Corp.-based HP ProLiant BL series to mainstream businesses but will continue to sell its home-grown HP Server BH series to the telecommunications industry, officials of the Palo Alto, Calif., company said last week at the Blade Server Summit, in San Jose, Calif.

ProLiant models today support 280 blades in an industry-standard 42U (about 6-foot-tall) rack. The current system features Intel Corp.s Pentium III processors, but HP will offer two-way Intel Xeons this summer and a four-way version by the end of the year. HP also expects to ship blade servers with iSCSI and Fibre Channel storage ports and with Gigabit Ethernet ports later this year, officials said.

Meanwhile, RLX, the company widely credited with launching the blade server niche, continues to target the aerospace, bioinformatics and Web hosting industries. The company, based in The Woodlands, Texas, will ship ControlTower 3.0 blade management software this summer, according to Chief Technology Officer Bob van Steenberg. The new version will have a blade re-provisioning tool; future versions will have policy-based and service-level-based provisioning, van Steenberg said.

About 60 percent of the companys revenue is derived from blades that use Transmeta Corp.s low-power chips. RLX will likely skip the upcoming 800MHz version of the chip and wait for the next, faster chip, van Steenberg said. Also, RLX is building its own sales force to counter IBMs recent pullout from a reseller deal, he said.

Vikas Rijsinghani, CTO of Atlanta-based Proficient Systems Inc., uses 72 RLX blades—41 for managing his companys development and quality assurance system and 31 for hosting his customers financial industry messaging software. He approves of RLXs software plans. "Prior to them having Control-Tower, we actually built our own custom scripts," Rijsinghani said.

Looking forward, Rijsinghani said hed like to see RLX build a specialty network-attached storage blade so that more storage could simply plug in. Thats something RLX is considering, a spokesman said. In addition, a firewall/load balancing blade server with technology from F5 Networks Inc. will launch later this year.

While early blade designs were targeted at handling relatively simply workloads, such as Web hosting, upcoming systems from HP and IBM will be equipped with far-more-powerful 32-bit Intel Xeon and even 64-bit Itanium processors.

Those more robust systems will result in servers capable of handling customers most demanding enterprise applications.

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