Feb 22, 2005 (09:02 AM EST)
IBM Exec Lays Out Intel Server, Blade Strategy

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With the launch of a four-way Intel server that leverages a system architecture reminiscent of a mainframe, IBM is making a concerted effort to differentiate itself from rivals such as Hewlett-Packard and Dell. Tim Dougherty, director for eServer BladeCenter Systems for IBM's Systems and Technology Group, explained the company's Intel server strategy and relentless commitment to blade servers in an interview with CRN Editor In Chief Michael Vizard and Editor Heather Clancy.

CRN: In a nutshell, what is IBM's server strategy for competing against HP and Dell?

DOUGHERTY: Our big play is blades on one end and eServers at the high end. The squeeze in the middle is what has been the commoditized servers. If you compare a 1U server from Dell with one from IBM, you'll almost always find that we'll give you more DIMMs, more drives and innovation around vector cooling across the entire product line.

CRN: How does IBM's new four-way Intel server further that strategy?

DOUGHERTY: We think this is a trump card to play against HP. It uses mainframe technology to give us a significant advantage in the four-way space. We've spent $100 million developing the X3 architecture over a three-year period.

CRN: Beyond the traditional server space, how do you contrast IBM's approach to the blade server market from HP's?

DOUGHERTY: My view of HP is that they view blades as 1U servers thrown on their sides. If you look at their blade server equivalent, there are 112 fans in it. We have two. Those kinds of issues tell me that I'm not sure they quite get it yet. Our Cisco switch is the size of notebook. Their switch is another blade that you have to stick in. From a design point of view, they have a lot of work to do.

CRN: How can you get by with only two fans?

DOUGHERTY: Our blade centers will operate in excess of 90 degrees Fahrenheit. When these fans start up, they sound like aircraft engines. They're not really fans. They're huge blowers. One of them is enough to cool everything. We call it calibrated vector cooling.

CRN: What about Dell in this space?

DOUGHERTY: We have not seen a lot of Dell yet. If I were in their shoes, the first thing I would do is go to my installed base. If they do that, we wouldn't necessarily see them. Part of it is that I don't think they have their product right yet. They don't do much integration. They have a lot of plans, but they don't have basic things like N+N power. People said blades initially were just a form factor. But blades offer you the capability to do a lot more. We spent a year-plus talking to customers before we ever brought this to the marketplace. The thing that is attractive about blades is not the density of the servers. It's much more about how you manage the total infrastructure. There is a capability to reintegrate things that over the years have become disaggregated. That's one of the reasons we think blades will not be a reasonable success for Dell.

CRN: How does Sun Microsystems stack up as a competitor in blade servers?

DOUGHERTY: A significant portion of our blade sales have been at Sun's expense. Sun has a huge installed base that we've been picking off like crazy when they go to a Lintel base. Sun's blades don't make much sense, and now they are saying they will have a 2006 offering. They are using an old design today aimed at the edge of the network. Customers want blades to run business applications, not just edge-of-network kind of stuff.