Blades: The Edge Of Acceptance - InformationWeek

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Software // Enterprise Applications
01:30 PM
Darrell Dunn
Darrell Dunn

Blades: The Edge Of Acceptance

More businesses are considering blade servers, but the technology must first make good on some of its early promises

The nascent blade-server market continues on its evolutionary path, moving beyond the early-adopter stage to an era in which software innovation is helping the technology become a mainstream option for IT enterprise applications. But for businesses to adopt blade platforms faster, the technology needs to make good on some of its early promises that it's a cheaper and--most critically--more manageable alternative for server implementations.

A sluggish first half of 2004 kept the blade-server market from meeting some of its growth projections last year, but overall momentum was undeniable. As the technology eases into the mainstream, blade manufacturers and software vendors have begun to concentrate on improving deployment, manageability, and virtualization.

About 280,000 blade servers were shipped last year, according to Gartner, less than the research firm's original projection of 338,000. Still, revenue from blade servers totaled $1.2 billion, up slightly from Gartner's $1.1 billion projection, due in part to higher average selling prices as users have aggressively deployed more two- and four-processor blades than had been expected.

The fourth quarter of last year was particularly strong for blades. Worldwide, an average of about 63,000 blades were shipped per quarter in the first three quarters of 2004; 107,000 blades were moved into the market in the fourth quarter. Overall, in the past year the blade market grew more than 75% in units and about 95% in revenue, and it's poised for similar gains this year.

Dell PowerEdge 1855 chassis for blade servers

This Dell PowerEdge 1855 chassis can hold up to 10 blade servers.
"This is an area that promises a lot of growth, even beyond normal five-year projections," says Jeffrey Hewitt, an analyst at Gartner. "It represents a market-disruption cycle and an opportunity for vendors to capitalize."

Some of the earliest deployments of blades have centered on consolidation efforts. Densely housed in chassis of 10 or more, blade servers provide a ready answer for server consolidation. Now blades have the opportunity to move throughout the enterprise to be used for multiple types of computing, with companies dynamically allocating these resources to applications as needed. But the increased functionality has the potential to add new management burdens when it comes to configuring the systems. "Server blades are really just a bag of parts comprised of routing elements, load-balancing elements, the blade, and some external storage," says Vijay Manwani, chief technical officer at BladeLogic Inc., a provider of server-management products. "Companies need software that allows them to operate that bag of parts as a whole."

Blades are a leading candidate for managing a shared-resources environment. Virtualization technology lets blades be partitioned to control specific applications for specific users. By using operations-management software from companies such as BladeLogic, businesses can better configure their blade-server resources into specific software applications that can be used by various operating units, Manwani says.

RLX Technologies Inc. wants to enable "en masse management," or the ability to complete deployment and handle subsequent management across a multitude of blade servers in a single step with enhanced automation, says Scott Farrand, VP of software engineering. The company, which was founded by former Compaq server executives, was one of the pioneers in the blade market, but as large equipment manufacturers such as Hewlett-Packard and IBM have dominated the market in 2004, RLX decided late last year to exit the blade-hardware business and concentrate on software.

Altiris Inc., a management-software company, has seen increased use of its blade-deployment software, says Steve Morton, VP of product management. "It goes beyond just deploying the device to enabling management, monitoring, backup, and patching," Morton says. "Users need to take a holistic view of blade-server management."

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