IBM Strengthens Ultradense Blade Server

eServer Blade Center offers more robust system configuration; features Xeon, Itanium processors.

IBM has joined the growing ranks of computer makers who have announced high-density "blade" servers in the last year, but the company hopes to gain an edge on rivals by offering a beefier blade.

Blade servers, first introduced last year, are far smaller than the previous generation of thin rack-mounted servers, enabling customers to dramatically boost computing power within their data centers. For example, one system from startup RLX Technologies Inc., in The Woodlands, Texas, packs 324 servers into a 6-foot-tall industry standard rack designed to hold only 42 servers.

But to achieve such high-density designs, vendors removed internal storage capacity and installed cooler-running and less powerful processors to avoid overheating. While such designs were well suited to simple tasks such as Web hosting, they were generally seen as inadequate for handling more robust enterprise applications.

IBMs new eServer Blade Center, scheduled for release in the next quarter, will seek to exploit that weakness by offering a more robust system configuration designed to meet the demands of high-end enterprise applications.

Packing a relatively modest 84 blades per rack, IBMs Blade Center will feature 32-bit Xeon and 64-bit Itanium processors, the most powerful server processors available from Intel Corp.

IBM, in Armonk, N.Y., is wise to "play off of their strength," said one analyst.

"With this product, IBM will be able to target financial data centers, which literally have thousands of servers ripe for consolidation," said Jonathan Eunice, an analyst with Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, N.H. "RLX, with their Transmeta [Corp.] chips and low-power Pentiums, is not going to walk in there and sell to these guys. But if you have Xeons, I think theyll seriously consider populating with blade servers rather than the discrete rack servers they use currently."

Despite the heralded advantages of blade design and the high-profile vendors—including Dell Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc.—few customers have embraced the designs, due in large part to the technologys arrival in the midst of a U.S. recession, Eunice said.

However, the future for such devices is considered bright. According to International Data Corp., of Framingham, Mass., blade server sales are expected to reach nearly $3 billion by 2005.

In addition to featuring Intels high-end server processors, the Blade Center will be equipped with double-data-rate dynamic RAM with error- correcting code. Gigabit Ethernet switches will be incorporated into the system to provide high-speed network access to the blade servers.