ClearCube to Extend Blade PCs

Move will allow businesses to put multiple users on a single blade.

ATLANTA—ClearCube Technology Inc. is planning to extend the capability of its blade PCs to enable businesses to put multiple users on a single blade.

The move will enable the Austin, Texas, company to make its blade PC concept available to smaller companies, Ken Knotts, senior technologist, said in an interview Tuesday at the HP World 2003 show here.

ClearCube will announce the new capability within the next four weeks, Knotts said.

Also within the next few weeks, the company will announce a partnership with a major OEM, though Knotts declined to specify the computer maker.

ClearCube builds back-end blade computers that sit in chassis. Each blade is connected to a keyboard, mouse and monitor up to 200 meters away via an analog or fiber optic connection. The blades are stored in 3U (5.25-inch-high) chassis, with each chassis holding up to eight blades. Companies can fit 112 blades in a seven-foot rack. An interface on the back of the chassis, called BackPack, supplies external connections for the blades, and the Command Port provides the connections to the users desktop.

The concept gives users a full Windows experience, but makes it easier for administrators to manage, maintain and secure the computers.

Currently each blade is dedicated to a single user, Knotts said. However, the company is working on a way—which will include connecting the blade to the desktop via IP over Ethernet—to enable multiple users to run on a single blade.

Knotts said that the current technology gives users a high performance, such as the ability to run complex graphics, and runs between $1,500 and $2,000 per seat. Not all businesses need that type of performance, or can handle that price, he said.

Enabling multiple users on a single blade will bring the price down to less than $1,000 per seat, but—along with running the data in IP packets—users will not get the same amount of performance. But for small offices only running only one application, the trade-off can be worthwhile, he said.

"We want to offer a full range of products," said Knotts, whose company targets the government, financial services and health-care verticals.

ClearCube added fiber optics capabilities earlier this month, with its Fiber Optics Extension System, which included the Fiber C/Port and Fiber Transceiver. By adding fiber optic connections, ClearCube was able to extend the maximum distance between the chassis and desktop from 200 to 500 meters.

Though ClearCube is the only real player in the blade PC space, Knotts said he has heard from other vendors about their interest as well. Hewlett-Packard Co. officials in May said they were in a trial stage with blade PCs, and would decide later this year whether to move forward and bring them to market.