Dell comments help delay modular computing initiative

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 standardizing server components, according to industry sources.

A group of vendors led by Dell Inc., Intel Corp., IBM Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. had planned to announce on Wednesday a modular computing initiative to define common software APIs (application programming interfaces), hardware interconnects and form factors for high-density servers.

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 the OracleWorld conference in San Francisco last Monday, industry sources said. Michael Dell said 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 didn't go down well with other members of the modular computing initiative who felt his remarks misrepresented it as a blade-centric effort, the sources said. The initiative aims to define components for a variety of server types, not just blades, they 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 vendors are not compatible.

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

Dell's comments alone did not stop the announcement, according to an HP spokesman. The initiative wasn't unveiled Wednesday because there is still "no defined agreement that outlines the scope and charter of this initiative," wrote HP spokesman Tim Wileford in an e-mail.

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

An announcement about a blade standards initiative had been planned for Wednesday, said Intel spokeswoman Erica Fields, but the delay occurred simply because the timing wasn't right, she said. "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 preannouncement 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.

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