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IBM sharpens its blades

IBM has upped the ante in the blade server market with its eServer BladeCenter system, which it claims beats other players with its unique features and competitive pricing.

The company is keen to exploit the burgeoning blade server market, which according to International Data Corporation (IDC), is projected to grow to nearly $3.7bn (£2.38bn) by 2006.

"With the explosive growth of Internet transactions, Web servers need to be able to upgrade their systems very quickly rather than wait two to three weeks, which is the case for Unix servers," said Rocco Santa Maria, general manager, enterprise systems group, IBM Singapore.

Blade servers are the next wave in a push among hardware makers to cram as many servers as possible in the smallest space. The ultra-thin servers are stripped down to their essential components and then plugged into a chassis that lets the servers share power and network connections.

The combination of these techniques means that companies can pack more servers in their datacentres and that administrators do not have to deal with as many cables cascading down the back of rack servers.

While the concept is the same for any vendor, Santa Maria noted that IBM's eServer BladeCenter system, unlike most of the blade server designs available, uses speedy Xeon processors from Intel in its new systems.

"This puts us a generation ahead of the products using Pentium III processors at the moment," he said.

By going with the Xeon chips, IBM has made its blade products better suited for handling business applications and high-end e-mail applications, even though it made some trade-offs in how tightly the servers can be packed in a chassis.

For example, RLX and HP can fit up to 336 of its low-power blade servers in a standard 42U rack, HP can squeeze up to 280 servers in a rack with its lower-end systems, while IBM has a higher-powered design that fits 14 dual-processor blades with either 2.0GHz or 2.4GHz Xeons in a chassis 7U high, equivalent to 84 blades per standard rack.

Each blade can hold two 40 Gbyte integrated drive electronics (IDE) drives and support up to 8Gbytes of memory. IBM has also made it possible to connect the BladeCenter chassis into network attached storage (NAS) systems via Ethernet or into a storage area network (SAN) using a Fibre Channel adaptor.

IBM however, has built in more redundancy for each blade with regards to Ethernet connectivity, midplane, fans and power supply. IBM also touts the autonomic IBM Director management software which draws on its eLiza program, an initiative to make machines self-healing and self-managing.

Available next month, IBM's BladeCenter will support Microsoft's Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server, Red Hat, SuSE Linux and Novell's NetWare operating systems.

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