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NEW YORK—IBM is planning an aggressive expansion of its blade server offerings that will include additions to its line of Intel-based systems, an upgraded Power blade and a new server running on the new Cell chip.

IBM officials outlined the product roadmap at an event here on Feb. 8 for about 250 reporters, analysts and customers.

They also announced here that the group, which was first talked about last summer, is now up and running with about 40 initial members.

The push with the new products, which will roll out over the next few months, is part of IBM’s efforts to keep its position in the increasingly competitive blade server space.

It currently is a two-company race at the top between IBM and Hewlett-Packard, with Dell as a distant third.

William Zeitler, senior vice president and group executive for IBM’s Systems and Technology Group, said IBM holds the lead with about 40 percent market share.

Analyst firm IDC expects the blade market to grow to $10 billion by 2009, when 20 percent of all servers sold will be blades.

Key to IBM’s new products is the BladeCenter H chassis, which offers up to 10 times as much I/O bandwidth as the current chassis.

It offers up to four 4X InfiniBand fabrics as well as support for both 10GB Ethernet and 10GB Fibre Channel. There also are up to four high-speed bridge modules.

A key to the new chassis is that customers can run any current or future blades in it, said Susan Whitney, general manager of IBM’s xSeries unit.

Read more here about IBM outfitting its line of System i5 servers with the new Power5+ processor.

“Our blades are absolutely compatible from chassis to chassis to chassis,” Whitney said, countering a criticism from competitors leading up to the announcement.

The new chassis will be available in March.

IBM also announced new management tools with the chassis.

The Advanced Management Module, which will be integrated into IBM’s Director and Tivoli software, will automate blade management tasks that currently are done manually.

In addition, Power Executive will enable users to monitor their data center power requirements and use power and cooling as needed.

“It’s about making real-time data center server decisions and putting the data in our hands,” Whitney said.

In addition, an industry-standard iSCSI connection that will be available in the middle of this year will enable users to integrate their blade servers with System i5’s virtual storage, networking and tape resources.

Next Page: Rising costs.

Bringing such management capabilities is important, as the cost of managing servers grows, Zeitler said.

Over the past five years, management and operation costs have risen to account for almost 75 percent of the overall cost of a server, he said.

“It’s about simplifying the operational environment in the data center or telecommunications office or in the bank branch,” he said.

The ease of management of blade servers and overall costs were key factors in convincing Jack Ondeck, senior vice president and CIO for Bristol West Insurance Group, to adopt the technology last year.

When using traditional stand-alone servers, bringing in a server to run an application meant having to bring in another four or five servers for such functions as backup and disaster recovery.

That need is less with blades, Ondeck said. A project that might have called for 36 to 48 traditional blades now only needs 12 to 13 blades, he said in an interview before the event.

They’re also easier to deploy, needing only to plug them into the chassis, Ondeck said.

That ease has allowed him to also keep up with the demands of users. By speeding up server deployment by using blades, “we can stay two steps ahead of our customers instead of always running behind,” Ondeck said.

In addition to the chassis, IBM unveiled a number of blades that will launch during the year.

Also coming available next month will be the BladeCenter JS21, which will be powered by IBM’s dual-core PowerPC 970MP chip.

The system will offer up to three times the performance and twice the memory of the current JS20, with support for up to 16GB of DDR2 memory.

It also supports IBM’s Advanced Power Virtualization technology within the chip, enabling users to consolidate multiple applications onto a single blade.

The server can support from one to 10 partitions running both AIX—IBM’s Unix variant—and Linux, Whitney said.

In April, IBM will roll out a new HS20 blade running Intel’s low-voltage dual-core Xeon chip—code-named “Sossaman”—which will have a power envelope of 31 watts.

Server density and more powerful processors have increased the costs of power and cooling in data centers, making them factors in making technology decisions for many companies.

“While the cost of computing has stayed relatively flat, the environmentals around computing have gone up,” said Douglas Balog, vice president of IBM’s BladeCenter business.

Only a few years ago, power and cooling accounted for about 1 percent of overall server ownership, Balog said. That has since risen into the 20 percent range, he said.

In the third quarter, IBM will introduce a blade powered by two nine-core Cell processors, a chip built in cooperation with Sony and Toshiba.

Initially viewed as a Power-based chip aimed at game consoles, the Cell blade will offer benefits for users that run compute-intensive graphic applications such as 3D rendering and encryption, Whitney said.

IBM also announced that Cisco Systems has designed the InfiniBand Switch Module, a 4X switch for high-connectivity, specifically for the BladeCenter platform.

The switch is four times faster than previous products, IBM officials said. That will be available in the second quarter. will continue IBM’s push to use partners to expand the blade ecosystem, Zeitler said.

IBM and Intel three years ago created the BladeCenter Alliance to drive standards into the growing blade space.

Through, companies will be able to build applications on top of the servers to create solutions for everything from voice-over-IP to business intelligence.

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