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Dell and IBM unsheathe their blades

Dell Computer and IBM released their long-awaited blade servers today, joining Hewlett-Packard and RLX Technologies in adopting this new technology for keeping computing systems slim.

Dell chose Intel's Pentium III chip for its dual-processor PowerEdge 1655MC systems. IBM opted for Intel's more powerful Xeon chips for its dual-processor BladeCenter products, squeezing 14 of them into a chassis 7U (12.25inches) high.

Both products began shipping this week, with the PowerEdge 1655MC starting at $3,298 (£2,097) for a single blade and the server enclosure. IBM's BladeCenter starts at $1,879 for a single blade and its enclosure is priced at $2,789.

As the first major blade vendors on the scene, HP and RLX have taken the largest share of the blade server market, edging out numerous smaller vendors. Of the top server vendors, Sun is the only company not to have brought out a blade product.

Blade servers are thinner, more compact versions of rack servers. Blades from some vendors can be stacked together so tightly that hundreds of them can fit into a standard rack, which would house only several dozen traditional servers.

Blades also share a common networking infrastructure that helps cut down on the number of cables that administrators have to deal with on the back of a server rack.

The systems can perform a wide range of tasks from Web serving and application serving to running business software. Most vendors have used lower power processors like the Pentium III in systems geared towards Web serving, for example. IBM chose Xeons for its servers to pull in the business software market.

Dell can pack six of its blades in a 3U high chassis. The systems include small computer system interface hard disc drives and redundant power supplies, fans and Ethernet switches, said Darrel Ward, senior manager of rack servers at Dell.

The PowerEdge systems will run Microsoft's Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server and Red Hat's Linux operating system.

IBM's BladeCenter products ship with either 2.0GHz or 2.4GHz Xeons. Each blade can hold two 40Gbyte Integrated Drive Electronics (IDE) drives and support up to 8Gbytes of memory.

IBM has 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 adapter, said Jeff Benck, director of xSeries marketing at IBM.

At a later date IBM plans to roll out blade servers that use its Power4 processors, typically found in the company's pSeries Unix server line.

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