Blades Advance In The Data Center - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications

Blades Advance In The Data Center

A cornerstone of utility computing may depend on more standardization efforts

Blade servers will likely be at the heart of utility-computing environments, which should enable business-technology managers to shift server, storage, and networking resources to respond in real time to business demands. There are problems with the technology, such as the ability to keep data centers cool when they're densely packed with blade servers. But the benefits so far seem to outweigh those concerns, including economical use of rack space and cabling and an easier way to add and remove processors. Vendors are now trying to fulfill another promise of blade servers: Helping companies consolidate the management of these resources.

Most efforts to date have concentrated on making it easier to manage blade servers from a single vendor. IBM two weeks ago introduced its Web Infrastructure Orchestration software, which is designed to automate data-center operations for its Intel-based BladeCenter servers running its WebSphere middleware, DB2 database, and Tivoli Storage Manager software.

chartBut some vendors are taking steps to simplify blade-server interoperability. Last week, blade-server manufacturer RLX Technologies Inc. introduced the latest version of its Control Tower XT software, which can manage RLX blades and servers from other vendors in a data center. Also last week, several utility-computing services and software providers formed the Data Center Markup Language Organization to develop standards they say will be the cornerstone to building utilitylike data centers where all IT components, including blade servers, can exchange information. "We're trying to build a language construct that addresses the data center as a whole," says Darrel Thomas, chief technologist of EDS Hosting Services, one of 25 companies launching the organization. Other founding members are Akamai Technologies, Computer Associates, Mercury Interactive, and Opsware.

The group expects to begin designing the DCML framework in November and to have a specification ready for testing by early next year.

At Greater Baltimore Medical Center, network manager Eric French finds the trend encouraging. He uses both Hewlett-Packard blade servers and IBM Unix servers in his data center, and will deploy 43 more HP blade servers by January. Vendors "have stopped thinking about servers only in terms of processors and memory and started seeing them more as tools," he says.

But a few vendors are notably absent from the effort--HP, IBM, and Sun Microsystems--and that makes Illuminata senior analyst Gordon Haff a little skeptical about its chances for success. The hard part isn't the standardization, he says. It's more about "getting all of the people who need to agree to set aside their differences and reach some common ground." An IBM spokesman says the company isn't convinced of the need for a new interoperability standard and wants "more detail on what the DCML standard is all about."

And more remains to be done to assure business-technology managers that their investments in blade servers will be protected, says Eric Gullicksen, embedded hardware group manager at research firm Venture Development. The proprietary architectures that exist today concern IT executives. "If someone comes out with an innovation and it's not the same guy I bought from, I'm screwed," he says.

Bob Van Steenberg, RLX's chief technology officer and VP of development, says standardization efforts could have a downside: "Design commoditization over the next few years would be inherently limiting."

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