IBM Sharpens Blade Server Line

IBM on Tuesday rolled out the first of its BladeCenter ultradense servers, along with a third-party development program.

IBM on Tuesday rolled out the first of its BladeCenter series of ultradense servers, the IBM eServer BladeCenter, and also announced a third-party development program.

The new server, originally reported in eWeek in August, uses Intel Corp.s Xeon processor and has 8GB of internal RAM. A standard rack holds 84 blades in 14 7U bays, officials said.

"Its a very strong, higher-end blade. It is the latest technology," said Tom Bradicich, CTO of IBMs xSeries group, in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Because of the BladeCenters large amount of RAM, "workloads can run at maximum frequency, so users dont have to ration it down," he said.

The blades start at $1,879 each, while the chassis starts at $4,988. The chassis includes a Gigabit Ethernet switch, two power supplies, two cooling systems and a management processor. The blades are available now with either two onboard 40GB IDE drives, two external 80GB SCSI drives or access to network-attached storage through Ethernet. IBM will ship a version with an internal Fibre Channel switch early next year, Bradicich said.

That switch will come from Aliso Viejo, Calif., based QLogic Corp., sources said. IBMs storage division resells Fibre Channel switches from market leaders Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and McData Corp., but those firms are not in IBMs new Bade Alliance Program, which was also announced Tuesday.

The program has 50 initial partners, including QLogic and Cisco Systems Inc., who will develop software, OEM blades and BladeCenter add-on modules. "The modules include switches [for] Internet, Fibre Channel, InfiniBand, and management," Bradicich said.

Future versions of BladeCenter itself will use four-way servers and will support Intels IA-64 processors. Versions due in the second half of 2003 will have inter-architecture load balancing and power management features, he said.

With more than 100 watts of power allocated per blade, "these are about enterprise data centers, not dot-coms and Web hosting," said analyst Jonathan Eunice, of Illuminata Inc., comparing BladeCenter to the first generation of industry products.

Looking forward, IBM should be building blades using the Power brand of processors, said Eunice, in Nashua, N.H.

"They have a plan to use these for other kinds of servers—network controllers, storage servers," he said.

However, Eunice said todays BladeCenter specifications may be overkill for some users. "They dont really have an answer for the Web tier. It doesnt extend far enough down the range. You cant get the same scale as you can with," a blade from ultradense server pioneer RLX Technologies Inc., he said.

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