IBM and Intel Corp. announced Tuesday that the two high-tech giants have joined forces to develop enterprise-class ultradense servers, called blades, which will be based on Intel Xeon and Itanium processors.
The new servers will be more powerful than existing blade offerings, which primarily rely on low-power processors. While such slower-running chips run cooler and thus enable companies to pack more than 300 blades into a single 6-foot-tall rack, the processors lack the power to run many compute-intensive business applications.
IBM and Intel disclosed Tuesday that they will jointly develop beefier servers featuring the chip makers most powerful processors that the two companies believe will prove more appealing to large corporate customers. The trade-off, however, is that users will only be able to pack about 84 of the heftier blades into a single rack.
Under the multiyear agreement, IBM and Intel will share research and development costs and have full access to results from their collaborative efforts. Ultimately, IBM will sell the resulting hardware under its brand name, while Intel will offer similarly configured unbranded servers to computer makers worldwide.
Further details of the partnership were not disclosed.
IBM said it will introduce the first system based on the collaborative effort next week.
Blade servers were first introduced to the market last year by startup companies, and eventually introduced by larger computer such as Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp. early this year. HP continues to offer the two blade designs following its acquisition of Compaq in May.
Other major computer makers have also announced blade designs, including Dell Computer Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc.
While most computer makers will feature Intel processors in their ultradense servers, IBM contends its partnership with the chip maker will give it an advantage over its rivals.
“This is not your traditional OEM relationship,” said Tim Dougherty, director of blade server strategy at IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y. “Were actually forming a multiyear design and development effort. Each of us will have full access to these bladed products to sell to our respective customers.”
Intel agreed that its relationship with IBM is unique.
“We collaborated with NEC Corp. in the past to develop servers, but what were doing here is different,” said Phil Brace, director of marketing in the enterprise products group at Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif. “This is a multiyear agreement to develop a new marketplace, whereas previous relationships have been based more on existing technologies.”
Blade servers are touted as an ideal solution for companies seeking to consolidate servers and free up space in their data centers. Early system designs from startup companies, such as RLX Technologies Inc., could pack more than 300 servers into a 6-foot-tall industry-standard rack originally designed to hold 42 servers based on the 1U chassis.
The 1U, previously the thinnest rack-mounted server available, is a pizza-box shaped system measuring only 1.75 inches thick that was designed to be stacked one atop another, rather than as separate platforms that would otherwise take up floor space.
But early blades used less powerful, cooler-running processors that, while well-suited for easing potential overheating problems, were a poor fit for handling compute-intensive business applications.
IBM contends its relatively heftier blades, which will offer about double the density of 1U servers, will appeal to larger corporations that want to use the servers to run more business-critical applications, such as IBMs WebSphere or SAP ecommerce software.
“Six to 12 months ago, everyone was talking about blades as simply a density play,” Dougherty said. “But the reality is that high density addresses only a small market niche. The reality is—and we validated this through a lot of customer interaction—that companies want to know how they can consolidate 35,000 Microsoft Exchange users running on hundreds of machines into one place. Our solution will be able to do that.”
While IBM and Intel contend their partnership will enable them to more effectively develop enterprise-class blade servers, the deal could also pit Big Blue against rivals selling nearly identical hardware purchased from Intel.
“We expect people to take these building blocks and develop product offerings based on them,” Dougherty said. “But we believe the value proposition that we bring to the table, with our software and services offerings, is how well distinguish ourselves in the marketplace.”