In an effort to encourage hardware vendors to build components for the blade platform they co-develop, Intel and IBM will open up parts of the BladeCenter design specifications.

The two companies began joint development work on Xeon-based blade designs in September 2002, with IBM lending expertise in system design and software and Intel providing expertise on processors, chipsets and communication chips. IBM has used the jointly developed blade designs as the basis for its eServer BladeCenter platform, while Intel has offered the technology to hardware makers under licence.

Access to the design specifications for these blade systems has thus far been restricted by non-disclosure agreements and licensing fees. However from now on, hardware vendors will be able to get access to the BladeCenter specifications by signing a seven-page licensing agreement, which grants users the rights to licence the specifications for certain types of products, according to instructions posted on IBM's website.

By opening the BladeCenter specifications the two companies hope to encourage hardware vendors to develop "networking switches, blade adaptor cards, and appliance and communications blades for enterprise networks". The specifications will include guidelines and tips and tricks for building blade components, said a source familiar with the announcement.

They do not, however, enable companies to clone the entire blade systems. "Not all of the parts to build a blade are in the specification. You still have to come to IBM or Intel for the chassis or the management module," the source said.

By opening their blade designs, IBM and Intel may make it easier for some vendors in new highly specialised markets to build components for the servers, said Charles King, an analyst with The Sageza Group: "I think they're going to tap into some of the enthusiasm and specialised knowledge of vendors that might be swept under the rug if they tried to come in through the front door."

Blade rival Hewlett-Packard said it had no plans to follow a similar approach and open up its own blade specifications, but will continue to share them with partners under non-disclosure agreements, according to Rick Becker, vice president and general manager of blades with HP.

Intel and IBM to date have not received widespread industry support for their blade designs, and this announcement is unlikely to change things, Becker said. Information on the BladeCenter specifications can be found at http://www-1.ibm.com/servers/eserver/bladecenter/open_specs.html. Intel and IBM declined to comment.