Dell and IBM unsheathe their blades

Dell Computer Corp. and IBM Corp. released their long-awaited blade servers Monday, joining Hewlett-Packard Co. and RLX Technologies Inc. as the major players to have adopted this new technology for keeping computing systems slim.

Dell chose Intel Corp.’s Pentium III chip for its dual-processor PowerEdge 1655MC systems. By contrast, IBM picked Intel’s more powerful Xeon chips for its dual-processor BladeCenter products, and can squeeze 14 of them into a chassis 7U (12.25 inches) high.

Both products started shipping this week , with the PowerEdge 1655MC starting at US$3,298 for a single blade and the server enclosure. IBM’s BladeCenter starts at US$1,879 for a single blade, and its enclosure is priced at US$2,789, according to information on its Web site.

As the first major blade vendors on the scene, HP and RLX have taken the biggest chunk of the blade server market, beating out numerous smaller vendors, according to research firm IDC. Of the top server vendors, Sun Microsystems Inc. is the only company not to have brought out a blade product.

Blade servers are thinner, more compact versions of rack servers. Blades from some vendors can be stacked together so tightly that hundreds of them can fit into standard rack, which at best would house only several dozen more traditional rack servers. Blades also share a common networking infrastructure that helps cut down on the number of cables administrators have to deal with on the back of a server rack.

The systems can perform a wide range of tasks from Web serving and application serving to running business software. Most vendors have used lower power processors like the Pentium III in systems geared towards Web serving, for example. IBM picked Xeons for its servers to cater more to the business software crowd.

Dell can pack six of its blades in a 3U high chassis. The systems include SCSI (small computer system interface) hard disk drives and redundant power supplies, fans and Ethernet switches, said Darrel Ward, senior manager of rack servers at Dell, in Round Rock, Tex.

The PowerEdge systems will run Microsoft Corp.’s Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server and Red Hat Inc.’s Linux operating system.

Dell plans to offer more powerful Xeon-based blades next year, Ward said.

IBM’s BladeCenter products ship with either 2.0GHz or 2.4GHz Xeons. Each blade can hold two 40GB IDE (Integrated Drive Electronics) drives and support up to 8GB of memory. IBM has made it possible to connect the BladeCenter chassis into network attached storage (NAS) systems via Ethernet, or into a storage area network (SAN) using a Fibre Channel adapter, said Jeff Benck, director of xSeries marketing at IBM, in an interview earlier this year.

IBM plans to roll out blade servers at a later date that use its Power4 processors, typically found in the company’s pSeries Unix server line.

IBM will support Microsoft’s Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server, Red Hat Inc. and SuSE Linux AG’s Linux and Novell Inc.’s NetWare operating systems with the new blade servers.