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Blade PCs Catch IBM's And HP's Attention

The two vendors are cautiously approaching the young market
The emerging market for blade PCs has attracted the attention of two industry leaders. IBM last week confirmed that it has an informal agreement with ClearCube Technology Inc. to sell and service ClearCube's PC blade products, while Hewlett-Packard says it has "been doing some testing in this area." Both companies are interested in taking a PC's processor, drive, and memory off desktops and moving them onto cards in centralized racks where they can be more easily managed.

To date, ClearCube is the only company shipping a blade PC, for about $2,500 per user. Its C/Port desktop device connects with standard peripherals such as a keyboard, mouse, monitor, and speaker and uses a Category 5 cable to connect to its own dedicated blade in a company's data center. The blades fit in a chassis, with each serving a single desktop user. Each chassis holds as many as eight blades and mounts into an equipment rack that can hold 12 chassis.

IBM offers a number of services for joint IBM and ClearCube customers, including sales, installation, testing, ongoing maintenance, and help-desk support. "ClearCube is hoping that IBM will eventually license and manufacture the PC blade technology because IBM can do it cheaper and faster," says Bob Hennessy, financial markets manager for IBM Global Services integrated technology services.

blade PCHP says a number of its customers have asked if there's any way to apply the blade-server model to desktops. "We're not making any product announcements yet, but we are saying that there's an opportunity here," says Hugh Jenkins, marketing VP for HP's industry-standard servers.

HP wants to use remote-management tools developed for the data center in other areas of a company, says Ron Eller, VP of solutions for industry-standard servers. "We're working with a few customers who are interested in this and still trying to understand what kind of problems this solves," he says. "If the results prove out, you should hear more from us later this year."

Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group is implementing ClearCube blade PCs to support the electronic conversion of medical records for as many as 85,000 patients. By the end of this month, Northwestern Memorial will be using 72 blade PCs in exam rooms at four clinics. "In exam rooms, PCs weren't fitting the bill," says Guy Fuller, Northwestern Memorial's IT manager. By installing ClearCube C/Ports in the rooms, while hosting the processor and memory in a wiring closet, Fuller is able to eliminate the distractions of whirring PCs, cut down the amount of space needed for desktops, and improve data security.

The biggest challenge for Northwestern Memorial's clinics has been retrofitting the wiring closets to accommodate the blade PC racks. The process includes installing thermostats, fans, and portable cooling devices, as well as raising ceiling tiles. The group plans to add blade PCs for use in 200 exam rooms throughout its Chicago-area clinics.

Blade PCs won't replace more conventional desktops in physicians' offices, however. Doctors like to have control of their office PCs, Fuller says .

And while he's heard about HP's designs on the blade PC market, Fuller plans to stick with ClearCube. "Clearly, they're the leader," he says.