May 20, 2003 9:00 PM PDT

Big Blue unites clusters, blade servers

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IBM is combining two popular concepts in computing--Linux clusters and blade servers--into a standard system for businesses and research institutions.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based computing giant plans to announce on Wednesday the IBM eServer Cluster 1350--its first prepackaged Linux-based blade cluster. The Cluster 1350 will consist of combinations of the IBM BladeCenter systems, eServer x335 and eServer x345 systems. IBM said that by testing and integrating the clusters at IBM's factories, such systems will be easier to install and manage. Technical computing customers, such as aerospace firms, are target buyers.

"Customers in all segments including the very high-end are no longer interested in building their own systems," IBM Vice President David Turek said in a statement. IBM said the systems will be available June 6.

Clusters and blades are in some ways a natural fit. Clusters often consist of several hundred servers. Blades, thin computers that fit into a rack, generally take up less volume than do traditional rack-mounted servers. A cluster inserted into a blade system, therefore, will take up far less room than a traditional cluster. RLX Technologies and SGI already sell such systems.

Sageza Group analyst Charles King said IBM is tapping into an increasingly popular area of supercomputing. More and more of the top machines are built using Linux-based clusters, King said. Clustering is particularly popular in the life sciences industry, other analysts have said, because of the application base.

"The introduction of this product speaks to the growing popularity," King said. "It's not just research labs that are doing this anymore."

One reason is the falling cost of such systems, King said. "Something that might have cost $10 million or $20 million a few years ago is a fraction of that now."

King said IBM is trying to outrace Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard in order to capitalize on the commercial market for high-performance computing clusters.

"They think they can make a buck out of it," said King, who also expects Dell to reach for a share of the market: "It's a space I would expect to see them get into more agressively in the future."

In April, IBM created a new unit, known as Deep Computing, to try to consolidate the sales efforts for such clusters.

Meanwhile, HP said earlier this week that it is equipping a unit of DaimlerChrysler with a cluster that uses 200 Itanium 2 processors.


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