IBM takes on HP, Sun with blade system

IBM has thrown its weight into the latest battle among hardware vendors by introducing the next generation of its BladeCenter Systems. “No issue is more front and centre today than the cost of energy and the limitation that energy requirements can put on a client’s ability to grow their infrastructure,” said James Gargan, vice-president of IBM System x in a teleconference. “While global energy consumption continues to rise, data centres have emerged as one of the biggest culprits.”

Gargan said in the U.S., there are more than nine million servers running 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

A recent study at the University of New Hampshire found that 38 per cent of the U.S.’s power supply was being absorbed by data centres. According to IDC, businesses will need an additional 12 million square feet of data centre space by 2009.

“That means that businesses are going to spend nearly $720 million per year in utility costs to power the systems that will take the space of two football fields, which roughly equates to half of the Great Wall of China,” said Gargan.

Jonathan Eunice, founder and principal IT advisor at analyst firm Illuminata, said in the last year power and cooling have become that “hot ‘x.’”

“The truth is everyone’s working on it,” he said. “There’s no one who’s uniquely working on it. We have some unique approach.”

Sun took its second stab at the blade market in September 2005 with the launch of its “Galaxy” line of Advanced Micro Devices’ Opteron-based x86 servers. But Sun remains far behind competitors HP and IBM, who dominate the x86 server market.

In June, HP launched the HP BladeSystem C-Class blade chassis that can fit up to 16 separate servers or storage devices in a 17-inch box. The C-Class features an LCD screen that gives administrators information about the blades and/or their components.

IBM’s Gargan and his counterpart, Doug Balog, vice-president of IBM BladeCenter, wasted no time slagging HP’s C-Class system. According to IBM’s internal benchmarks, said Gargan, the new AMD Opteron-based BladeCenter Systems save up to 30 per cent more energy than HP’s AMD Opteron-based BladeSystem. That number falls to 18 per cent less energy when both machines are running at full capacity. “Using IBM (AMD) Opteron-based blades, a customer can save up to $168,000 over three years in power, cooling and hosting costs,” he said. “IBM BladeCenter would need 110 less square feet of floor space than HP’s (C-Class).”

Similarly, Balog followed up with numerous benchmark comparisons between IBM’s and HP’s blade offerings. He said HP has “made a lot of noise,” about their redesign blade system, referring to the C-Class.

“They’ve stranded multiple customers by offering no backward compatibility,” he said. “What’s been the benefit of those multiple changes in technology and design point?

“We remain the best system designed in the marketplace.”

The lack of transparency of vendor benchmarks, however, is questionable, said Illuminata’s Eunice. “There’s really no way that I could understand the details,” he said. “I doubt they brought in a qualified blade technician to tune the system. I don’t see it as the crushing blow that they do.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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