IBM Developing Blades for Server-Based Computing

Big Blue is partnering with Devon IT to develop and sell a combination of blades and thin clients to create a server-based computing environment for customers.

IBM wants to take client computing back to the data center.

Along with Devon IT, IBM is developing a new BladeCenter system that will allow IT administrators to control and manage a fleet of thin client PCs from a back-end data center—a concept that several other vendors have begun proposing as a more secure alternative to traditional desktops.

Big Blue and Devon IT will demonstrate this new system, which the two companies are calling a "Workstation Blade," at the 2007 IBM PartnerWorld Conference in St. Louis May 1.

This offering will consist of a co-developed BladeCenter server, the HC-10, along with new thin clients and broker software developed by Devon IT, which is based in King of Prussia, Pa. The two companies also have plans to market and sell the new system together as well as through their channel partners.

"There is an extremely strong emerging interest with end users and our customers to move the operating systems and applications normally found on desktops back into the data center," said Tom Bradicich, chief technology officer for IBMs System x and BladeCenter. "The technology has really matured and its now possible to have the full PC experience through a thin client in an uncompromised and secure environment."

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While offering thin clients that are controlled by back-end servers as a more secure and cost-effective solution to traditional desktops is not a new concept, the number of vendors pushing these new systems as a viable alternative has increased.

In April, NEC, also know for its servers and PCs, began to sell a complete system of thin clients, software and servers for enterprise customers. ClearCube, a longtime developer of server-based computing technology, recently offered an update of its management software suite that included new virtualization capabilities.

By using thin clients, which offer a monitor, keyboard and mouse but no moving parts, OEMs can also present these various systems as a way to cut down on electrical costs.

For IBM, offering more uses for its BladeCenter systems comes at a time when the Armonk, N.Y., company is fighting for blade server market share against Hewlett-Packard, which also offers a line of thin clients, as well as blade systems and data center management software.

According to the latest server survey by Gartner, IBM and HP control about 75 percent of revenue within the blade market and the two have been involved in fierce competition for market share in this area for years.

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This new system is also not the first time IBM has tried to leverage its BladeCenter system into client computing. In 2005, IBM, VMware and Citrix announced an offering called Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure. In this offering, centrally located blade servers that are running VMwares virtual machine technology will house the critical components, such as the memory and processors, as well as the data. Users can then access the OS and applications from a desktop device through Citrixs Presentation Server.

Bradicich and Joe Makoid, the president of Devon IT, told eWeek that their new system will be able to offer better graphics ability compared to the NEC system. While the NEC system offers a graphics processor built into the thin client itself, the IBM and Devon system uses compression technology to render and transfer graphics from the blade to the thin client. This allows for customers in fields such as CAD (computer-aided design) to work on graphics-intensive projects.

The IBM and Devon system also offers broad support for USB devices and will be able to offer employees remote access to their desktop images, Makoid said. The system is also certified to support Microsofts Windows Vista operating system.

Although the two companies plan on demonstrating this new system at IBMs PartnerWorld conference, the offering will not go on sale until either the third or fourth quarter of this year.

Although IBM officials said the new blade system can be used in any of its current line of BladeCenter chassis, they offered only a few details of the new servers technical configurations. Bradicich said the HC-10 will use an Intel dual-core Xeon processor and an Intel chip set.

At this time, Bradicich said IBM as not offering specifics on memory or other configurations. The two companies have also not finalized a price for either the blade or Devons thin client PCs and broker software.

The new offering also works with IBMs Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure.

Makoid did say that the system will have appeal to a number of specific customers, especially hospitals and other health-care facilities that need to protect and secure patient data under federal laws known as HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act).

"We really see this in the medical field," Makoid said. "It has the ability to deliver the graphics capabilities, there is no hard drive and the company is able to lock down and manage all the software from one place."

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