Compatibility issue hangs over blade servers

A lack of blade-server standards may retard market growth of the space-saving devices, according to a study released Tuesday by Gartner Inc.’s Dataquest Inc. division.

Even with the potential user concern over a lack of compatibility, the ever-growing demand for server density (the ability to cram servers into as small a space as possible) will keep the worldwide blade server market growing from an estimated 84,810 units shipped in 2002 to more than 1 million shipments by 2006, Gartner Dataquest said in a statement.

Blade servers, which began to hit the market last year, are servers contained on a card. The server cards – the so-called blades – can be installed in a chassis that has multiple slots, rather than installing servers one chassis at a time into a rack cabinet, Gartner Dataquest said.

The design of the blade servers holds several advantages for customers compared to the more common rack-optimized servers. The small amount of space the blades require, the ease with which they can be install and removed and the management software that the blade servers use make the product desirable to the enterprise market, Gartner Dataquest said.

Companies like Hewlett-Packard Co., FiberCycle Inc. and RLX Technologies Inc. have already entered the market. In January, HP released a Compact PCI blade server that runs the Linux operating system and also offers support for the set of telecommunication industry specifications known as NEBS (Network Equipment Building Standard).

But potential users may be discouraged if a company’s blade server appears to be proprietary, Gartner said. Rack-optimized servers have a proven track record for working with systems from different vendors, where the blade servers don’t, and there is currently a lack of compatibility that exists between blades made by different vendors.

Users will eventually demand a standard for blade servers, according to Gartner. However, since manufacturers are only just beginning to understand how blade servers might be best deployed and used, the report suggested that users wait until the market is more mature before purchasing blade server products.

Though users may be drawn to blade servers as a way to consume less space and power, they should first be sure that blade servers have significant server density advantages as well as the software and hardware features to bring useful management and availability features before investing in the products, Gartner Dataquest said.

Gartner Inc., based in Stamford, Conn., is at