Sun Enters Blade Wars

HP, IBM, Dell and sun duke it out for server supremacy.

After a two-year absence, Sun Microsystems is getting ready to rejoin a blade server space that is becoming a key battleground for top-tier OEMs.

IBM and Hewlett-Packard—which on June 14 unveiled a new blade server architecture—are continuing their two-horse race at the top of the market, while Dell later this month will launch the latest version of its blade, the PowerEdge 1955.

So when Sun, of Santa Clara, Calif., gets there with the release later this summer of its "Andromeda" line of Opteron-based blades, it will find its rivals already clamoring for a greater share of a space that analyst firm IDC expects to grow to $10 billion within the next three years.

HPs BladeSystem c-Class blade server is a new architecture designed to meet customer demands for greater manageability, virtualization and power efficiency.

"This thing is a big announcement in a very small package," said Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HPs Technology Solutions Group. "What weve [shown] today is an adaptive enterprise in a 17-inch box."

Its also the latest move by the Palo Alto, Calif., company in its push to offer all its data center technology in a bladed form factor. The c-Class platform currently offers one- to four-processor blades using Intels Xeon and Itanium chips and Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processors. Down the road, the company will roll out blades based on its high-end NonStop and Superdome servers, as well as a six-disk storage blade. Kyle Fitze, HPs director of storage area network product marketing, said the blade is being designed to work outside a SAN and will be able to apply use cases to data storage needs.

HPs announcement came a week after IBM, the current blade market leader, touted advancements by its group, including new members, additional financing and another third-party product based on IBMs BladeCenter platform. In February, IBM unveiled its latest chassis, the BladeCenter H, and a road map for more blade systems, including one featuring the Cell processor.

Dells 1955 will be part of the companys initiative to promote itself as a solutions provider rather than simply a box maker. Dell also is promising price cuts and greater manageability in its new line of servers, including the 1955.

Sun will be the last to enter into the fray. John Fowler, executive vice president of the companys newly formed Sun Systems Group, told a small group of reporters June 13 that Suns new blades will be packed with reliability features, easily upgradable CPUs and six to 10 times the throughput of current blades.

The blade market continues to grow as customers see the benefits of the technology, including greater resource flexibility and data center density, and reduced real estate costs. IDC, of Framingham, Mass., said blade revenue grew 43 percent in the first quarter this year over the same period in 2005.

For Sodexho, a food service supplier for educational institutions and corporations, bringing in HP blades three years ago was a space-saving measure.

"A while ago, we were worried we were going to run out of space for our rack servers, because we had to keep adding them," said Kevin Galvin, director of LAN services for Sodexho, of Buffalo, N.Y. "So we knew we had to do more with the room we had or else expand to a bigger data center. We were able to replace a bunch of our older racks with a few blades, so the space problem is gone."

Real estate and energy both played into Iris Wireless decision to switch from Dell blades to IBMs Opteron-based LS20 blades. "Were out of power and out of rack space," said CEO Peter Rinfret about the companys Nashville, Tenn., data center. The company is migrating its data center to a new facility in Dallas.

Still, some IT administrators are waiting before making the jump to blades. Michael Hodges, manager of system services at the University of Hawaii and a longtime Sun customer, said he is sticking with rack-mounted systems for now.

"Blades are a very promising technology, but in order for the technology to be mature enough for us to consider, there is a prerequisite—open standards for management of physical blades such that vendor management tools and vendor hardware can be considered separately," said Hodges in Honolulu. "It is not at this point cost-effective for us to consider changing to blade technology, and, for the interim, [we] will more likely look at virtualizing on multicore Niagara technology [from Sun], since the entry point—-a T2000, for example—is very cost-effective."

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...