IBM to expand blade server line

IBM Corp. will continue to build out its blade server line throughout the course of this year, adding faster processors to current systems and delivering a new design that packs more computing power in a smaller space.

IBM will over the next few months upgrade its current BladeCenter HS20 product that uses 2.4GHz Xeon processors from Intel Corp. with new 2.6GHz and 2.8GHz processors, said Jeff Benck, director of product marketing at IBM, during a Tuesday interview. Along with the faster chips, IBM plans to roll out new four-processor blades in the second half of the year and will eventually sell blade servers based on its own Power processor.

“We believe 2003 is the year of the blade,” Benck said.

All of the major server vendors and a host of smaller companies have started selling blade servers, which are thinner, stripped-down versions of current rack servers. Customers can take advantage of the blade server’s small size by packing hundreds of them into a rack, trimming the size of their data centre. The blade server chassis designs also make it possible for the systems to share networking and power cables, reducing the cabling nightmare often faced by system administrators.

Sun Microsystems Inc. was the last blade holdout among large server vendors but this week announced both a 64-bit blade server that uses its UltraSPARC processor and a 32-bit blade with an Intel-compatible processor.

Like Sun, IBM sees a need for both 32-bit and 64-bit blades.

The company plans to release a four-processor Intel-based blade that will fit in the current BladeCenter chassis. Customers will be able to stack seven of these four-processor blades in a 7U (12.25 inches) high space, Benck said. IBM would not provide specific information on a release date, saying only that the blades will appear later this year.

Also arriving sometime this year will be the blade server based on IBM’s Power processor, which is used in its Unix server line. Unlike most servers with the Power chip, IBM plans to offer these blades with the Linux operating system first and then follow with its AIX version of Unix.

“A lot of the growth we are seeing with blades is on Linux,” Benck said.

IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., appears to have seen some early success with its BladeCenter line. The company has shipped 5,000 systems in 10 weeks, Benck said.