IBM, Intel plan to team up on blade server development

Blade servers just won a heavyweight endorsement. IBM Corp. and Intel Corp. have announced a plan to jointly design and develop blade servers for a wide range of enterprise applications, with the first product announcement from the partnership due within a month.

The two companies plan to cooperate on blade system and chassis development, networking infrastructure and management. IBM brings its system design, architecture and software expertise to the partnership, while Intel offers its experience in building server blocks, boards, chips and enterprise processors to the protect.

Blade servers are modular computers housed on a tightly packed board that can squeeze more processing power into a standard rack with far less cabling than older rack mounted computers. IDC in Framingham, Mass., said sales in the new blade server category will total only US$120 million this year but $3.7 billion in 2006.

Tim Dougherty, director of blade server strategy in IBM’s server group, said he expects that blades will eventually take over all but the high end of the traditional server market — both racks and large stand-alone systems — because they are easier to install and manage.

Blade servers recently introduced by Dell Computer Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. have been designed to support applications at the edge of an enterprise’s computing infrastructure, supporting such applications as the Domain Name System, which translates alphabetical Internet addresses into numerical IP addresses, Web hosting and streaming media.

Dougherty said IBM, which already offers low-end blade servers, now plans to move into the “more complex middle tier” of enterprise applications such as Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino enterprise mail systems, as well as handling processing on the front end of applications such as SAP and PeopleSoft. He said IBM plans to introduce new blades developed by the partnership within a month.

Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., called this strategy a “logical extension” of blades into enterprise computer architecture. “They’re putting more power on the blade,” Haff said.

Phil Brace, director of marketing for the Intel enterprise product group, said the two companies will pool their research and develop and design resources to jointly develop blade server products, adding that the configuration of blades will lead to further integration of networking and switching functions within the server itself. The two companies will initially develop products based on the Intel family of Xeon and Xeon MP processors, but also plan to build systems based on the Itanium 2 processors in the future.

Both companies will be able to offer a complete portfolio of products developed through the partnership to their respective customer bases. Other manufacturers, such as Dell, will “benefit from the joint R and D,” arising from Intel’s collaboration with IBM, Brace said.

Dougherty noted that IBM’s agreement with Intel does not preclude Intel from using research from the partnership to develop products for other customers.

A spokesman for Dell declined to comment on today’s announcement. But Haff said that if Dell can benefit from the work done by IBM and Intel on blades, this would fit well with Dell’s strategy to enter maturing markets rather than blazing a technology path on its own.