IBM, Intel Bite into Blade Server R&D

In a little bit of quid pro quo, IBM and Intel Tuesday agreed to manufacture blade servers together for the enterprise marketplace.

Server blades are thin cards containing microprocessors and memory that are designed for a dedicated application such as serving Web pages. Their appeal lies in the fact that they may be inserted in a rack to conserve space.

While many of the blade server products on the market today focus on serving edge applications the Armonk N.Y. computer giant and Santa Clara, Calif. chipmaker said the focus will be on designing midrange blade servers, or systems to run e-commerce applications, firewalls, clusters and e-mail, to name a few.

Big Blue and Intel plan to cooperate on blade system and chassis development, networking infrastructure and blade system management software. IBM, whose future BladeCenter upgrades will bear the fruit of its partnership with the giant chipmaker, brings expertise in systems design, architecture and software.

In turn, Intel will offer what Phil Brace, director of Marketing for Intel’s Enterprise Products Group, calls “server building blocks.” These include including enterprise processors, chipsets, communications silicon, server boards and software. The two companies aim to make to blades that boost performance and reliability. Brace told he would not rule out the possibility of collaborating with other high-tech players on blade servers.

IBM already uses Intel’s DP and Itanium chips in addition to its own POWER server semiconductors, but this deal will see Big Blue utilize Intel’s either Intel’s Xeon processors or Xeon MP processors. Systems based on Itanium 2 processors are also expected in the future.

IBM plans to launch its new blade server products by the end of the month. Intel plans to deliver to its OEM customers blade servers based on the Xeon processor family, as well as blade chassis and related management software.

The two firms are just a sampling of the major players in what is a crowded, albeit immature market, as competitors such as Compaq, HP, Dell, Sun Microsystems, RLX Technologies and Egenera have already brought, or plan to bring, significant blade server contributions to the table. Market research firm IDC estimates the serve blade market will reap about $3.7 billion by 2005.