IBM's Blade Server Business Takes Off

By Dan Orzech

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IBM customers have placed orders as of this week for 5,000 of Big Blue's new Xeon-powered blade servers, according to the company. That's just two and a half months after the product was introduced.

The reception to IBM's blade server "surpasses anything we have seen in the industry standard server marketplace at IBM," says Jeff Benck, the company's director of eServer product offerings.

IBM expects demand for blade servers to "explode" in 2003, Benck added.

Blade servers pack multiple processors into one enclosure, with shared power supplies, fans and networking cards. They can shrink the amount of data center floor space needed for a given number of servers, as well as greatly simplify the tangle of cables that IT staff have to contend with.

Each of IBM's blade servers, which the company calls the eServer BladeCenter, can hold up to 14 individual processing blades. Six of the 7U-high units can fit in a standard six-foot high data center rack, allowing users to pack 84 individual CPUs into a rack which otherwise would hold only 42 standard 1U servers.

That growth won't be limited to IBM, according to Richard Fichera, vice president and research fellow at Giga Information Group. "Blades are going to take off," he says. "I expect this ramp to steepen."

IDC estimates blade servers will grow to nearly $3.7 billion by 2006

The BladeCenter runs Linux, Microsoft Windows and Novell Netware. IBM would not say how many BladeCenters it had sold with each operating system.

The company did announce that several customers are already running BladeCenter systems. The Genome Sequencing Center at Washington University in St. Louis has purchased IBM blade servers to help accelerate research and analysis of large scale genomic data.

The genome research center was looking for a system which would give it "more power, greater compute density and higher availability," according to Kelly Carpenter, the center's IT Manager.

In France, oil and gas research firm CGG (Compagnie Ginirale de Giophysique) is using a 256 blade IBM blade server running Linux to crunch massive amounts of geological data as it searches for oil and gas reserves.

Earlier, IBM had said that AOL Time Warner was using the IBM BladeCenter to power part of the AOL data center. According to Dr. Norman Koo, AOL Time Warner's executive director, AOL expects "to deploy a considerable number of integrated enterprise blade solutions."

Other vendors are also seeing a boom in blade servers. Marlboro, Mass.,-based Egenera, which began shipping blade servers in the fall of 2001, has seen significant success among Wall Street firms. Both Credit Suisse First Boston and JPMorgan Chase are using the company's systems.

More recently, Sun, HP and Dell have all begun shipping blade servers recently as well.