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IBM Introduces Blade Server-Based Workstations

The new products are built for places with many workstations, such as design shops and trading offices.

IBM on Tuesday previewed a power-saving, thin-client workstation system that the company said is ideal for traders in financials services and computer-assisted design engineers,

The BladeCenter Workstation Blade was developed in collaboration with Devon IT, a tech company focusing on alternative desktop computing methods. The system includes IBM's workstation blade server and its connection broker software, and desktop devices from Devon. IBM said the new product would be available this year, but did not disclose pricing.

The new products are built for places with many workstations, such as design shops and trading offices. Among the biggest advantages to traditional desktop systems is less power and heat generation, according to IBM.

Thin clients accessing applications through a server have no spinning hard drives for storage, nor do they need fans to dissipate heat. As a result, client-side energy consumption can be reduced from up to 300 watts for a typical workstation to 15 watts, which is the amount of power needed to run an electric shaver, IBM said. The new product was unveiled at IBM's PartnerWorld conference in St. Louis, Mo.

Slow performance, particularly in rendering graphics, has been a weakness with thin-client architectures, since most of the processing is done on the server. IBM, however, said the Workstation Blade overcomes latency problems through hardware compression techniques in the rendering and transfer of graphics from the server to the desktop devices. For less demanding graphics applications, a dedicated processor board is available for the clients.

IBM is not alone in offering server-based desktop systems. NEC last month introduced its Virtual PC Center.

NEC claims to solve the latency problem through a software driver on the server that intercepts video, audio, and graphics files before they reach the hardware's Intel Xeon processor. The files are then shipped to the thin client, which has its own graphics processor to run the content. By splitting the workload, the thin-client system performs at a level equal to a traditional desktop PC architecture, NEC says.

Competing with IBM and NEC is Hewlett-Packard, which in January expanded its own thin-client offerings with new products and upgrades.

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