IBM Corp. last week unveiled its first computer platform aimed at the thin-blade server market, opting for the Intel Xeon as its processor of choice.
The decision continues a generational shift by OEMs away from the Pentium III and its rival, the low-power Crusoe processor made by Transmeta Corp., both of which had gained earlier server wins.
IBM and other server manufacturers are rolling out thin-blade systems because they offer a slim, compact form factor and, unlike traditional servers, connect directly to each other via chassis mounts, obviating the need for communication ports. With up to 168 Xeon processors running at 2GHz each, IBM, Armonk, N.Y., said its eServer BladeCenter line can accommodate high-speed Gigabit Ethernet or Fibre Channel protocols and supports higher-speed DDR SDRAM.
The adoption of the Xeon brings several other benefits, according to IBM, which said its architecture offers twice the density of rival Xeon-based servers and is capable of holding 84 blades per rack, more than double that of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s HP ProLiant BL20p system. In addition, the line costs up to 23% less than competing HP blade servers configured with an Intel Pentium III processor, the company claimed.
The design win follows a blade server alliance that IBM disclosed last month at the Intel Developer Forum. Under the agreement, IBM is committing systems design and software expertise, while Intel is contributing its know-how in processor, chipset, and board design. At the time, Intel said it also planned to design its 64-bit Itanium 2 processor into IBM's thin-blade server lines at a future date.
In the meantime, IBM's new line offers further evidence that next-generation Intel processors have secured a solid position as the server market's dominant MPU, according to analysts.
"Xeon is Intel's chip of the year for servers, and now that Intel has introduced a faster Xeon with bigger caches, OEMs are looking to use it," said Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight64, Saratoga, Calif.
In fact, Intel has been gaining momentum in the thin-blade server market since last year, when Amphus Inc., San Jose, dropped the Crusoe in favor of the Pentium III-M for its low-power thin-client servers. Houston's RLX Technologies Inc. also opted for the PIII-M after Transmeta, Santa Clara, Calif., suffered production glitches last year as it moved the Crusoe to a 0.13-micron manufacturing process.
Dell Computer Corp. and Sun Micro-systems Inc. also plan to enter the thin-blade server market this year, although neither has made public which processor it will use.