HP has powerful blade servers on the way

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) is set to release a new line of powerful blade servers in about two months that will be among the first to use Intel Corp.’s speedy Xeon processors.

HP plans to launch its Proliant BL p-class blade server line with a two-processor Pentium III system that will ship by the end of September. It will follow up with another two processor Xeon-based system and ship a four processor-based Xeon system in the early part of next year, said Sally Stevens, marketing director for HP’s density-optimized servers.

The new blade servers are an extension of the BL e-class blades that Compaq Computer Corp. started shipping earlier this year. The BL e-class products used lower voltage processors and were targeted at customers looking for rack-dense systems to handle tasks such as Web serving or firewall functions. The BL p-class servers have sacrificed some of the space-saving qualities of blades in order to make the systems powerful enough to handle high-end software such as application servers or streaming media servers.

Blades mark the next step in rack-dense computing from the current 1U (1.75 inches) and 2U systems sold by most major server vendors. Blade servers are stripped-down systems using only core components, which means they can be stacked tightly together. They also cut down on the number of cables cascading from a rack by sharing a common backplane.

Blade pioneer RLX Technologies Inc. set the density standard, fitting up to 24 blades in a 3U space. With its BL e-class blades, HP can squeeze 20 blades in a 3U space, or 280 servers in a standard 42U rack. The BL p-class systems will be far less dense with eight dual processor servers fitting into a 6U chassis, Stevens said.

HP also sells a line of blades aimed at telecommunications companies, called BH blade servers.

HP has captured the majority of the nascent blade market thus far, according to first quarter numbers from IDC. Blade vendors generated a total of US$15 million in revenue for the quarter, according to IDC, with Compaq capturing 42 percent of the market. RLX followed with 28 percent, HP with 19 percent and NEC Corp. with 11 percent of the market.

HP will also offer NAS (network attached storage) products with its beefier blades and then plans to roll out an optional Fibre Channel connector for the blade systems next year that would allow them to connect into SANs (storage area networks), Stevens said.

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