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Blade Servers Gain Traction At Networks' Edge

Vendors are unveiling an array of devices ranging from standaline units to large clustered configurations.
This is the week of the blade server, as a barrage of announcements unveiled all sorts of blade servers ranging from standalone machines and dual-processor models to massive clustered configurations. The wave of blade server news coincides with the weeklong Server Blade Summit 2004 conference in San Jose, Calif.

"Blade servers are getting some traction at the edge of the network," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. "The challenge now is to pack a bunch of processors into a small space."

Blade servers are finding applications for "routine processing tasks" like the management of Web home pages and in other situations where users hit on the edge of company networks in big numbers, Brookwood said. Hewlett-Packard earlier this week unveiled such a machine, its ProLiant BL30p, which is based on dual Intel Xeon processors.

The blade server market is also marked by two conflicting trends, Brookwood said. Many users like the "big iron" approach of clustering scores of servers to form powerful systems, while others favor breaking down systems into smaller configurations. "Oracle, for instance, used to like to deploy in a big box," he said. "Now, Oracle likes to deploy on smaller clustered systems."

Regardless of how blade servers are used, the market is booming--market research firm IDC recently predicted the blade server market will hit $3.7 billion by 2006 and climb to $6 billion by 2007. In addition to HP, Tatung and 3UP Systems also unveiled new Xeon-based blade server products this week.

In unveiling the latest members of its ProLiant line, HP noted that it has sold more than 500,000 ProLiant Essentials software licenses. At the same time, it announced a $499 low-cost blade server called the ML 110. The machine is available in models using the Intel Celeron at 2.6 GHz or the Intel Pentium at 2.8 GHz.

The BL30p is aimed at the broad business market for applications in Web hosting, E-commerce, and grid and computational clusters. HP said the device is optimized for compute density with minimal or no local storage, although it can have connections with SAN implementations.

The BL30p fits into HP's broad server portfolio, which in addition to the Xeon includes Intel's Itanium and AMD's Opteron lines as foundation processors. "HP is more-or-less agnostic (in servers)," says Brookwood. "It's well-positioned whichever way the market goes--Itanium, Opteron, or Xeon."

Brookwood says the server and processor world will see more HP software for the Itanium in the future. He expects more robust HP Unix software to be developed for the Itanium in coming months in a demonstration of Intel's deep commitment to the powerful 64-bit processor.

Tatung unveiled its TUD-4010 blade server, which can be clustered in configurations of as many as 200 processors per rack. A two-processor system with two server blades, one switch blade, and one management blade is priced at $9,980 and includes 512 Mbytes of main memory and a 40-Gbyte hard drive.

The 3UP Systems CMS-4U supports 12 Intel dual-Xeon servers. It's the company's first product and is aimed at data center, remote location and small and midsize companies. Pricing is not yet available.