Standard blades cut both ways

Blade makers are all in favour of standards, provided they retain control. There is another way

Summer is over when the football starts, the swifts depart and IBM/Intel issue a joint press release about blade servers. Two years ago, the companies announced they were working together. A year ago, they said that what they had was so good it should become an industry standard. Today, they say that to promote this, anyone can join in and play without royalties. Oh, you just have to sign this licence agreement. A mere detail.

The rest of the industry is as cool as a September shower about this. HP says standards are good, but not "just someone throwing a spec against the wall" -- perhaps the company's still smarting from the time it tried to get everyone rallied around the CompactPCI spec for blades and got the cold shoulder. Dell, with zero chance of getting a standard of its own off the ground, thinks industry working groups are the answer. No surprises there.

Blade servers have proved their worth, and the market is healthy. Nobody doubts that a true standard would grow that market substantially, if you could mix and match blade servers as easily as you can mingle PCs, software and expansion cards from different makers. Yet nobody wants to lose the sort of market share won by controlling important technologies.

IBM has especial reason to be wary of truly open standards. The first experiment in IBM/Intel co-operation, the IBM PC, sparked off an enormous global market. Yet an army of cloners quickly moved in while Microsoft and Intel did very well out of bits that nobody could duplicate freely. One hideously expensive attempt to retake the high ground -- who now remembers OS/2 and MCA? -- and IBM conceded defeat.

Who on earth would want a replay of that bloody affray? The customers, that's who. A market full of choice and low prices, one where innovation is encouraged by common standards, is much better for those who have to plan, implement and use IT solutions. If the industry won't provide it -- and failed standards attempts in wireless show that lip service is often all we get -- then there's nothing stopping us, the users, from getting together and laying down the law.

A Blade User Group with bite would really bug the vendors. They deserve no less.