Hardware vendors set blade server plans

Hewlett-Packard Co.'s announcement that it plans to ship a high-density blade server next month has prompted a flurry of similar moves.

Not to be outdone by HP, Compaq Computer Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc. quickly detailed their own plans to release blade servers, which integrate processors, memory and I/O functions on a single circuit board.

The jockeying continued last week, when RLX Technologies Inc., a start-up in The Woodlands, Texas, announced a second-generation blade system and a control device for managing the compact servers.

In May, IBM Corp. agreed to resell RLX's devices, but none of the top-tier server vendors has shipped a blade developed in-house. Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H., said HP's announcement forced Compaq and Sun to make their strategies known.

The vendors are also adjusting their blade server technology plans as they turn more of their attention to corporate users, Haff said.

Blade servers can be densely stacked in racks. For example, RLX claims that it can fit 336 blades in a standard server rack. Because of that capability, vendors initially aimed the devices at Web hosting firms and other IT service providers that need to shoehorn a large number of servers into their data centers.

That's "not such a good market now" because many service providers are struggling financially, Haff said. But, he added, sales to corporate users won't take off until vendors offer better management and automation tools to support the devices.

Some vendors are trying to do just that. RLX said the control blade it released last week can be used to check the status of computing blades on a network and to install new software images on the devices or remotely reboot them.

Compaq said new remote management software will be a key add-on feature of its blade line, due out early next year.

Sun and HP also indicated that they're focusing on improving the manageability of blade servers for users.

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