Intel Corp. will unveil a processor and a chip set at Comdex in Las Vegas this week designed to power a new wave of ultradense servers, although the hype surrounding the emergence of so-called ultradense blade designs this year has been dulled by poor sales.
Compaq Computer Corp., Dell Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have already revealed plans to introduce blade products in the coming months, with those designs likely to be based on Intels new low-power Pentium III-S processor and accompanying chip set.
Intels newest processor will be a low-voltage version of the III-S design, which shipped this summer. Low-power, cooler-running processors are critical to enable computer makers to package hundreds of chips in compact designs.
The desire for such chips spurred many startup blade companies, such as RLX Technologies Inc., of The Woodlands, Texas, to use processors from another relatively new company, Transmeta Corp. Blade companies use of Transmetas Crusoe processors marked the first time the chips were used outside of mobile devices, for which they were intended.
Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif., will also introduce a low-power chip set for use in blade servers. The design is said to be similar to the 830 mobile chip set but will include error-correcting code, a common feature found on most servers that helps assure system stability.
Despite high expectations of the new systems, blade makers have largely gotten the cold shoulder from customers, forcing some startups to fold. Among them are Ottawa-based Rebel.com Inc. and FiberCycle Networks Inc., in Los Gatos, Calif.
Intel announced its intention to target the high-density servers for March. Several startups attracted industry attention with their plans to ship compact designs. But sales have been slow, due in large part to managers reluctance to be rushed into adopting new technology. And a weakening U.S. economy has spurred many IT departments to cut spending.
"I do think that there still needs to be some testing and shakeout of the technology before it will be widely used," said Phil Senff, director of Internet services for iBiz Technology Corp., in Phoenix. "It is too new for most of us to take a leap of faith, especially with the way times are right now."
Blade servers consist of a processor, a chip set and memory on a motherboard. By stripping down a server to these basic components and using external storage, systems designers can pack about eight times the number of servers into a rack than previously possible.
For example, RLX this year introduced a blade system that can house 324 servers in an industry-standard rack designed to hold 42 servers.
RLX features several former senior Compaq executives on its staff, including Gary Stimac, a Compaq founder and former head of its server division. But in August, RLX announced it was also hurt by lower-than-expected sales and said it would lay off 17 percent of its staff. The company announced a shake-up of its management that resulted in the departure of its chief operating officer and chief financial officer.