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IBM BladeCenter spec picks up speed

IBM has signed up 115 companies since early September to develop for its eServer BladeCenter open specification it co-authored with Intel.

Many of those companies specialise in building networking switches, adapter cards, and appliance and communications blades, all aimed at enterprise-class networks, IBM executives said.

"With the first 115 companies, we are seeing a lot of networking kinds of functionality being explored as well as for XML acceleration and encryption-decryption. Companies that would ordinarily have created a solution for an appliance are now doing them for blades," said Tim Dougherty, director of marketing for IBM's of eServer BladeCenter.

One such company, Emulex, is building a Fibre Channel HBA that promises to offer higher performance San connectivity for IBM's BladeCenter. The company hopes to make the product available before the end of next year's first quarter.

"We see their [IBM-Intel] decision to open up the specification as a way to help us satisfy a growing demand among our users for HBAs within a BladeCenter environment," said Mike Smith, executive vice-president of marketing for Emulex.

Two other companies with development projects under way include Ranch Networks, which is creating a network control option blade that allows IP telephony service providers to better control security and QoS, and Tarari, which creates specialised silicon for content processing with an emphasis on accelerating XML processing.

The IBM-Intel specification offers free access to the design specifications for corporate and third-party developers in order to build products that are complementary to IBM's BladeCenter series servers that then offer a range of different solutions.

Some industry observers said they were impressed with IBM's progress, which, at least so far, validates the company's open approach to selling its blade architecture.

"This [open specification] is an interesting way to go about driving visibility around an emerging form factor. Blades will never be standardised across suppliers, but this openness within the architecture is important for users. Users do not want to put a Dell blade in an IBM chassis because of support issues, but they will want to know that Cisco or Brocade switches are available within the platform," said John Humphreys, research manager for IDC's enterprise computing and modular server programs.

One of the fastest growing markets, IDC recently forecasted that by 2007 blade servers will account for one out of every four servers sold.

One recent development that will drive this sort of growth is Dell's re-entry in the blade server market with a price competitive line of systems. IBM's Dougherty, however, sees Dell's new offerings as being a boon to the market in general.

"We welcome them [Dell]. We believe their entry is a major potential shift in the industry, although I think they will have difficulty keeping up with this sort of infrastructure. They are really good at producing things in mass quantities at lower prices. But this market is about integration of infrastructure, and those are the skills IBM can bring to the table like integrating storage and networking systems and helping users deploy them," Dougherty said.

Analysts see Dell's entry as more beneficial to users than individual suppliers and their respective strategies.

"IBM and Dell will overlap in terms of their target marketplace, but that just means that both companies will have to stay sharp in this competition. From the end-user's perspective it is a very good thing because there will be cost competitiveness which is going to drive down costs," Humphreys said.

Ed Scannell writes for Infoworld

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