IBM, Intel Manage Blades

IBM and Intel Corp. are each readying new blade server offerings with more complete management features.

IBM and Intel Corp. are each readying new blade server offerings with more complete management features in an effort to bolster the idea that blades are more than just thin, rack-mounted boxes.

IBM early next year will enhance its Director management software with new features that enable users to automatically launch a virtual session in one of the blades in an IBM BladeCenter server. As a result, an IT manager could set policies in Director that kick off a virtual session to do such things as automatically add processing capacity for an application when user demand spikes, officials said.

The added automated management capacity will come in handy when IBM introduces later this year a new BladeCenter version that comes with double the number of processors as the companys current offering. The as-yet-unnamed upgrade will feature four of Intel Corp.s next-generation Xeon MP chips, code-named Foster, said Jeff Benck, vice president and business-line executive for IBMs eServer BladeCenter Systems Group, at an IBM press briefing here last week.

In addition, IBM this fall will release a BladeCenter offering that the Armonk, N.Y., company is calling a Web server in a box. It will consist of a standard BladeCenter with 14 two-processor blades and comes with IBMs WebSphere Web server and Tivoli and Think Dynamics management software. Other Web-based software, such as firewalls, will be offered as optional modules, said Mark Shearer, vice president of eServer products for the IBM Systems Group.

Meanwhile, Intel is jumping into the blade server arena with a new family of products powered by its Xeon chips. At the Intel Developer Forum conference in San Jose, Calif., last week, company officials disclosed a few details about the new family. The two-CPU Server Compute Blade SBXL52 will be available this year, and a four-CPU system, code-named McCarran, is due later this year, according to Mike Fister, senior vice president and general manager of Intels Enterprise Products Group. Management of the blades will come via Intels Management Module and Veritas Software Corp.s OpForce deployment software.

Intels announcement followed the Santa Clara, Calif., companys release earlier this month of a low-power version of its Itanium processor for blade servers. Intel competitor Advanced Micro Devices Inc., in Sunnyvale, Calif., last week said it is readying low-power versions of its 64-bit Opteron chip that will run in blade servers.

Early users of blade servers said the systems—which include CPUs and offer connectivity to storage and other networks—are generally easy to set up and good for handling high volumes of transactions. The addition of more management features should make it even easier to move application workloads among blades in a server farm, some users said.

Such control is key for Perry Cliburn, CIO of Hewitt Associates LLC, a human resources outsourcing company in Lincolnshire, Ill. Over the past seven months, Cliburn has set up a computing grid that links applications running on Hewitts mainframe with new BladeCenter boxes that handle seasonal increases in use of the companys Web site by customers renewing their benefits. Since Hewitt cant tell when a spike will happen or how big it will be, Cliburn is glad to be able to quickly add blades to his infrastructure. "Were looking for heavy compute [power] with lots of variability," he said. "We dont anticipate a need for more blades this fall, but if we need more, we can add them quickly."

Additional reporting by Jeffrey Burt