IBM mulls blade desktops

IBM already has the lion's share of the blade server market; now it is looking to bring desktops into the equation

IBM is considering extending its blade server line with the addition of blade desktops - taking a PC's processor, drive and memory off the desktop and moving them onto cards in server-room chassis where they can be more easily managed.

Blade desktops were pioneered by US company ClearCube, which sells racks of blades, each one containing a motherboard, processor, memory and hard disk. ClearCube's solution has a small user port sitting on each desk, to which as many as four monitors, plus a keyboard and mouse are connected, with a Category 5 Ethernet cable running back to the blade where all the work is done.

IBM already resells ClearCube hardware, but is now looking at the possibility of manufacturing its own as it looks for an ever larger market for its blade server infrastructure, which it is pushing heavily with the backing of Intel. Speaking at a briefing with journalists, Tikiri Wanduragala, the company's senior eServer consultant for EMEA, said that blade desktops are one of the areas that IBM is looking into.

"There are many ways to skin this cat," said Wanduragala. "One way is to have one blade per desktop, and another would be to virtualise the whole blade centre and give a piece to everybody." Wandarugala said IBM is looking to VMWare for virtualisation software.

IBM was a relative latecomer to the blade market, but since its first launch has grabbed 44 percent of the market, according to analyst firm IDC. Wandaragula said the reason IBM was late to market was that the company wanted to make sure it had a comprehensive blade infrastructure in place.

In late 2003, Hewlett-Packard also began shipping blade desktops, though its Consolidated Client Infrastructure solution requires thin clients on the desktop.

Last week, IBM and Intel announced that they have opened their BladeCentre specification, meaning that anyone can now make blades to fit in the company's chassis. However, development of the BladeCentre technology remains firmly in IBM and Intel hands; although the plug-in interfaces have been openly published, the chassis design remains closed, meaning that only IBM, Intel and their business partners will be able to sell them.