Compaq blade servers slice a chip off HP block

Compaq's entry to the blade server market is more compact than Hewlett-Packard's, as competition shifts to size rather than performance

Compaq launched its blade servers on Monday. A three-unit high (3U) rack enclosure will hold 20 single processor blades, with two- and four-processor blades to follow later in the year. A single blade, with a 700MHz low-power P3, 512MB of memory and 30GB of disk space, will cost $1700. By comparison, HP's blades, launched last year, fit 16 server blades into a 13U enclosure, using 18-inch CompactPCI cards. Blade servers are designed to make life easier for service providers who were expecting to support exponentially increasing levels of business in centralised facilities. Since that market has been severely hit by the dot-com crash, blade vendors are re-orienting the products towards the enterprise. "We always aimed at both markets," said Andreas Knoepfli, vice president for industry standard servers at Compaq. "Companies are consolidating departmental servers in a server farm." Since the whole raison d'etre of blade servers is to produce a mass-market commodity, users are not expecting anything exciting from any vendor's products in this area. Compaq stuck to sensible operating systems (Linux and Windows 2000), kept its future plans vague and would not commit itself to any idea of offering 64-bit hardware or software, and processors such as Itanium do not feature on the public plans of either company yet. "64-bit is not a volume play in the short term," said Knoepfli. "Most 64-bit systems go to ISVs for development." Compaq held out a vague promise of an appearance of Xeon in the fourth quarter. Similarly, although the forthcoming Infiniband bus is intended for the blade market, it is altogether too racy to appear in actual products at the moment. The blade currently has two LAN connections that can be linked in different ways or taken to a switch outside the enclosure. Compaq's strategy is similar to those of competitors such as Hewlett-Packard. HP's blade server holds 16 blades with 32-bit Intel processors, each of which can run Windows, Linux or HP-UX. Jon Jacob, HP product manager for blade servers, said blades containing 64-bit processors will be available "in the next few months," but said there is no timeframe for Intel's 64-bit Itanium processor. "A lot depends on when Intel can produce a chip with the right power and cooling to squeeze it into a blade," said Jacob. The proposed merger of the two makes the competition even more pointed, although the companies will only have hard-to-measure features such as "better management" to compete with. Compaq's claims in this area are based on "adaptive infrastructure" a high-concept idea it launched in December, supported with management tools. "We are the only company with a broad product offering," was Knoepfli's other effort to position Compaq differently. However that "broad offering" is not actually available at the moment. It is based on using the single processor as a front end, and two- and four-processor systems for mid-tier and backend systems. The two- and four-processor blades are slated for the second and fourth quarter of this year respectively. ZDNet UK's Matt Loney contributed to this report.


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