IBM carves out four-processor Xeon blades

IBM is now the biggest blade-server maker, and its new unit puts the heat on Sun, HP and Dell

IBM is to launch its first four-processor blade server on Wednesday, the Xeon-powered BladeCenter HS40, complementing its current two-way Xeon and PowerPC blades.

The HS40 is the successor to the dual-Xeon HS20. Blade servers fit an entire server into a narrow unit that can be slotted in alongside others, theoretically making it a simple and less-expensive matter to add new server capacity.

The HS40 will be based on Intel's 2.8GHz Xeon MP processors, and will have eight DIMM memory slots for up to 16GB of memory, IBM said. It will work with the same BladeCenter chassis as the HS20 and the PowerPC 970-based JS20, with each chassis accepting up to seven HS40 units.

The blades will ship on 13 February, and will run Windows 2000 Server or Linux, IBM said.

Blades are strategically important; research firm IDC believes 20 percent of all servers that ship in 2007 will be blades. Though they're still a small fraction of the $10.8bn (£6bn) total server market in the third quarter, blade server sales increased from $118m in the second quarter to $164m in the third, according to IDC. Several major companies are competing in the blade market, including HP, Sun and IBM.

In the third quarter of last year, IBM for the first time surpassed HP to become the leader of the blade-server market, measured both by unit shipments and by revenue, IDC said. Dell is in third place, and with others including Gateway -- historically weak in the server market -- trying to get into the act.

Most blade servers today are dual-processor models, although HP sells a single-processor model using Intel's Pentium M mobile processor. In December, Sun unveiled its first blade server capable of running Linux, in a move that strengthened its ties with chipmaker AMD.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.