New IBM blades better network

IBM Corp. is drawing closer to releasing a new chassis for its blade servers, with an announcement possible as early as next week when the company is set to stage a major hardware launch in New York Feb. 8.

Back in November, IBM’s Doug Balog, vice president, eServer BladeCenter with IBM, said the company expected to release the new BladeCenter chassis in 2006. The new chassis will be aimed at “a number of high-end customers who need more I/O bandwidth,” he told IDG News Service in an interview at that time.

The new chassis offering improved networking capabilities shouldn’t be viewed as a replacement to the existing chassis, rather as an expanded offering, according to Balog, and it will be compatible with the current chassis. IBM is also on track to update its PowerPC-based blade to a dual-core model, based on the PowerPC 970MP 64-bit chip, which should appear in the first quarter of this year.

IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) so far have dominated the blade server market as “a two-horse race,” according to Gordon Haff, senior analyst with research company Illuminata Inc. This intense competition means both vendors tend to trash talk about the other’s capabilities, for instance, HP claims IBM’s new chassis is proof the company has issues with power consumption and cooling of its blades.

“Everyone is essentially in the same boat,” Haff said in a phone interview Wednesday. Blade vendors would like to maintain one chassis, but competition puts pressure on them to update frequently. It’s a question of finding a balance — “the most reasonable compromise” between those two extremes, he added.

Lining up IBM blades against those from HP, each vendor has different strengths, Haff said. However, IBM is somewhat ahead in market share terms, he said.

For the third quarter of 2005, market research company IDC had IBM as number one in blade server revenue with 42 percent market share, followed by HP with 31.6 percent, and Dell Inc. trailing in third with 9 percent market share.

Haff pointed out that although the blade market is growing rapidly, blades only account for a small percentage of the overall server market. IDC in its third-quarter 2005 figures showed blades representing 4.6 percent of total quarterly global server revenue.

IBM wouldn’t confirm what the Feb. 8 event will consist of, modestly billing it in invitations as a glimpse at “technologies that could change the way you look at computing.” A company spokesman would only describe it as “a systems-level event” that will be led by Bill Zeitler, senior vice president and group executive for IBM’s systems and technology group.

Zeitler also helmed the last major IBM hardware launch that took place in New York in July 2005. One announcement at the July event was in the blade arena, with IBM revealing plans to establish an industry community based on BladeCenter, called IBM and Intel Corp. released the open specification for BladeCenter in September 2004. Potential founding members of listed in July were Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., Citrix Systems Inc., Intel, Network Appliance Inc., Nortel Networks Corp., Novell Inc. and VMware Inc.

Since July, all has been quiet at “It always takes longer than you think,” Balog said in November. He added that the companies involved in the consortium have been meeting on a monthly basis to establish working groups to define bylaws for and to create a legal entity for the consortium as well as focussing on blade architecture and compatibility issues. More news from the group was “a couple of months away,” he said, which could translate into an announcement from the consortium next week.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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