IBM Blades Destined for Rackable Modular Data Center

IBM is preparing to offer its BladeCenter blade system as part of Rackable's ICE Cube modular data center, which some believe has the potential to be part of an IT infrastructure for high-performance computing and Web 2.0.

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.