With its announcement last week of a raft of new members of blade.org, IBM had renewed its efforts to make its own blade hardware specification the industry standard. Ever since blades appeared on the scene, there's been a battle raging to become the vendor whose blade chassis occupies that coveted spot. Has IBM done enough?
And what do the announcements made around Infiniband-based the chassis, BladeCenter H, and the Cell-based blade mean?
The blade market leader, IBM's senior server consultant Tikiri Wanduragala agreed that Big Blue was bidding for that de facto market standard. The company owns some 40 per cent of the market which is slated by researcher IDC to grow from $2 billion in 2005 to $3 billion in 2006. Joining an organisation is not the same as handing the organising company the title. However, it does portray an acknowledgement of IBM's position in the blade market, and over 40 companies have just done so.
Names on the list include Broadcom, Brocade, Citrix, Intel, Nortel and Novell, Red Hat, Symantec, VMware and Wyse. None actually make their own blades of course -- conspicuous by its absence is HP, which is not far behind IBM in terms of market share -- but those who've chosen to join are making sure that they keep in touch with developing technology.
But as for persuading HP to join a so-called open blade standard, as Balog has previously invited it to do, this seems highly unlikely to say the least. HP and IBM have been squabbling openly for the last two years about various issues, including cooling, power draw, and the number of blades you can cram into a chassis.
Meanwhile, IBM continues its efforts to draw as many industry players as possible round to its side of the fence. As for whether its done enough, time alone will tell -- but HP seems unlikely to throw in the towel just yet.
This announcement of the new BladeCenter was trailed last year by IBM's blade VP Doug Balog, who said that the company was working with a partner on an Infiniband-based chassis but declined to say who. Since IBM was already reselling Cisco's server switch gear, which it acquired via its purchase of Topspin, it wasn't hard to guess the company to whom Balog was referring.
The Infiniband I/O technology, which IBM says allows for a 10x improvement in connectivity throughput, allows the company to argue that its Cell-based blades, also announced last week, are a serious bid for the multi-media market.
According to Wanduragala, the new blade "opens up new applications for blades. It's for those companies wanting massive clusters for video rendering, and other HPC applications. BladeCenter is the fabric for building those clusters, and it opens up a new dimension for them. It's IBM's first computer with Cell. The key thing is that existing blade switches and blades fit into this new BladeCenter."
As well as IBM's first enterprise application for the Cell chip, it could also be the first ever enterprise application. The chip consists of a Power-based core surrounded by a host of co-processors, and was originally developed in concert with Sony and Toshiba with the aim of fitting it into games consoles.
So the Cell is far more versatile than it was originally described -- expect to see it appear in other guises in the not too distant future.