Dell comments cause confusion over modular computing initiative

Industry sources have claimed that comments made by Michael Dell at last week's OracleWorld conference in San Francisco have...

Industry sources have claimed that comments made by Michael Dell at last week's OracleWorld conference in San Francisco have helped derail plans to launch an industry-wide initiative aimed at standardising server components.

A group of companies led by Dell, Intel, IBM and Hewlett-Packard were to have announced a modular computing initiative to define common software APIs (application programming interfaces), hardware interconnects and form factors for high-density servers earlier this week.

But plans to go public with the modular computing initiative were put on hold after Dell's chief executive officer leaked news of the effort during a keynote address at OracleWorld, industry sources said.

Dell revealed his company was "in discussions with some fairly large computer companies to get some agreement on a standard blade architecture".

He said a lack of industry standards for blades was holding back the adoption of the nascent server architecture. "This thing's going to go nowhere unless you get a standard," he said.

Dell's comments did not go down well with other members of the modular computing initiative, who felt his remarks misrepresented it as a blade-centric effort. The initiative aims to define components for a variety of server types, not just blades, sources said. "There were companies that were a little upset by those comments," said one source close to the negotiations.

Blade servers are thin servers that slide side-by-side into a common chassis. They have proved popular with certain types of users, such as telecommunication companies, but have not been as widely adopted as analysts first expected. The delay in blade adoption has been attributed, in part, to the fact that blade servers and chassis from different suppliers are incompatible.

HP and IBM in particular, who each have invested heavily in developing blade systems and have no desire to see them commoditised, were upset by Dell's comments, said another source. The public announcement of the initiative has been now been delayed, but it is understood it will be made within the next month.

HP spokesman Tim Wileford claimed Dell's comments alone did not stop the announcement, adding that the initiative was not unveiled on Wednesday because there is still "no defined agreement that outlines the scope and charter of this initiative".

HP apparently is not ready to sign up for an initiative focused on blade standards.

"All of the calls for blades standards to date have been thinly veiled attempts by vendors who lack a significant presence in the blades marketplace to get access to technology that they did not invent and access to markets that they did not develop," said Wileford.

"HP views blade technology as still rapidly evolving; it is premature to stifle innovation through various implementation standards based on initial products."

Intel spokeswoman Erica Fields claimed the announcement was not made because the timing was wrong.

"I think the companies decided that there wasn't a lot to say yet," she said. "We're still in the early stages."

Dell's remarks were meant to be taken as general comments on the lack of standards in the blade space, and not as a "pre-announcement" of any blade standards effort, said Dell spokeswoman Wendy Giever.

"He wasn't specifically speaking of any particular standards body," she said. "There was no announcement of anything new on the standards front from Michael Dell at OracleWorld."

Giever declined to comment on whether an announcement had been planned for Wednesday. IBM also declined to comment on any planned announcement.

Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service

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