IBM gives peek at blade workstation

Big Blue teams with Devon IT to move the heat away from workers

IBM Corp. is developing a blade workstation, set to hit the market later this year, that moves the workstation from under a desk into the data center.

IBM will preview the BladeCenter HC 10 blade and the companion TC 10 desktop client Tuesday at IBM Partnerworld, being held in St. Louis. IBM collaborated with partner Devon IT Inc., which makes thin client terminals, to develop the products.

Individual workstations in offices have become a problem. When they're sitting under a desk, the heat build-up can be significant, particularly in situations where two or more workstations are underfoot. Also, a workstation presents maintenance and security problems to IT staff.

With a blade workstation in the data center, the heat is away from workers, IT staff can more easily access the machines for maintenance and upgrades.

"You wouldn't work on your automobile in your living room, because you don't have the workers, the tools or the setup," said Tom Bradicich, chief technology officer for IBM's System x and BladeCenter product lines. "Similarly, you don't want to run the workloads on the desktop that are more suited to be back in the data center where there are the tools, the management, the security, the power and the cooling capability."

Devon IT invested US$8 million in the research and development of the thin client that goes with the IBM blade workstation.

"It helps CIOs in companies to centralize their desktops but get a very, very rich desktop experience," said Joe Makoid, president of Devon IT.

The IBM blade workstation is aimed at power computer users such as workers in financial services, computer-aided design or graphic design. Some of them have more than one workstation at or under their desks but also need a client that delivers high-end graphics, Bradicich said.

The BladeCenter workstation features a graphics accelerator processor that delivers high-resolution graphics to the monitor, he said.

Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM's chief rival, introduced a blade workstation product in November 2006. It uses software to provide the same graphic accelerator function as IBM's processor, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates Inc., a technology consulting firm.

IBM's graphics accelerator compresses the data feed, passes it over the network to the client and reconstitutes it out there, Kay said. There are other benefits to blade workstations, too, he said.

"Blades are also better for availability because typically there's software that allows you to failover from one blade to another, so you can recover your working environment pretty fast," he said.

IDC does not track sales of blade workstations, but it does track blade servers and workstations in general, both of which are growing more popular.

IDC reports the overall workstation market grew, both in revenue and shipments, in the fourth quarter of 2006, compared to the fourth quarter of 2005. The blade server market is healthy, too. Revenue grew by 18.2 percent and shipments grew 16.9 percent in the fourth quarter of 2006, compared to the year-earlier quarter, according to IDC.

HP was the blade server revenue market leader with a 41.9 percent share, followed by IBM's 37 percent. But for all of 2006, IBM ranked first with a 40 percent share to HP's 37.4 percent.