IBM upgrades blade servers

Management software also unveiled

IBM Corp. will soon begin shipping upgraded models of its HS20 and JS20 blade servers, including a new SCSI (small computer system interface) option for the HS20 that will double the number of SCSI blades that users can fit into a single chassis, the company announced Friday. The Armonk, New York, computer maker also announced new management software for the servers designed to make them cooler and easier to manage.

Five new dual-processor models of the HS20 will ship with an updated version of the 64-bit-capable Xeon processor, code-named Nocona. With the new models, customers will now be able to include SCSI-based hard drives in the blade systems themselves, rather than by attaching a separate storage component, called a "sidecar" to the blade. With the new configuration, IBM's BladeCenter, will be able to house 14 HS20's, twice as many as it can hold when configured with sidecars, IBM said.

The processors on the new HS20 models will come with clock speeds ranging from 2.8GHz to 3.6GHz, and will feature a faster, 800 MHz front-side bus, said Tim Dougherty, director of IBM eServer BladeCenter.

They will also include new power management software, called PowerExecutive, that will take advantage of Intel's SpeedStep technology to give customers the option of slowing down the processor clock speed on blades that are demanding excessive amounts of power.

PowerExecutive "goes out and calculates all the power that's going to be drawn for the blade center," Dougherty said. "It also tells you who are the power hogs for that group. It'll lower the performance that they're getting, but at least they'll stay up."

Customers are still beginning to understand how to manage the heat generated by blade systems, which pack a much larger number of processors into a smaller space than conventional servers, said Jon Enck, research vice president, server and directory services, with Gartner Inc. "Trying to figure out how to integrate them into the data center is often challenging," he said. "Any relief that the vendors can provide in this area is always helpful to clients."

PowerExecutive will be available for the new HS20 systems when those begin shipping Nov. 12. The software will be ported to the JS20 in early 2005, Dougherty said.

IBM will begin shipping an upgraded version of its Power-based JS20 blade server, with a 2.2GHz processor, on Oct. 29. The JS20 will now also support IBM's AIX 5L V5.2 operating system in addition to Linux. The JS20 uses the same PowerPC 970 processor that Apple Computer Inc. uses in its Power Mac G5 computers.

IBM was the number two blade vendor in 2003, behind Hewlett-Packard Co, with 31 percent of the market, when measured by units shipped, according to Enck.

But the BladeCenter design used by IBM, and jointly developed with Intel Corp., has gained some traction in the market since it was conceived two years ago, he said. "There are quite a few of Intel's white box vendors that have picked up BladeCenter," he said.

Last month, IBM opened up the specifications for BladeCenter in an effort to encourage hardware vendors to build components for the blade platform. So far, the company has signed up 49 component vendors including Emulex Corp, Ranch Networks Inc., and Aarohi Communications Inc., Dougherty said.

Though IBM's BladeCenter efforts have been portrayed as an attempt to create an open blade standard, Dougherty said that this is not the intent. "We're not off here trying to create a standard. What we're trying to do here is open up the specification so more people can play in the ecosystem," he said.