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HP to put blade servers on a diet

Hewlett-Packard announces a new, thinner blade server--a system that will enable customers to stack twice as many of the dual-processor machines into the same space.

Hewlett-Packard announced on Monday a new, thinner blade server--a system that will enable customers to stack twice as many of the dual-processor machines into the same space.

The BL30p server is scheduled to ship by the end of June and will cost less than the current dual-processor BL20p, according to HP, though both systems use Intel's new "Prestonia" generation of the Xeon processor.

As many as 16 of the BL30p systems fit into an enclosure 10.5 inches tall. By comparison, IBM's market-leading BladeCenter can accommodate 14 dual-processor servers in a chassis 12.25 inches tall.

Blade servers slide side-by-side into a chassis like books into a bookshelf. The chassis includes components such as power supplies and external network connections all the blades share.

HP and IBM are duking it out for top billing in the blade server market, with Dell and Sun Microsystems trailing.

In 2003, IBM was the top blade server seller, with $202 million in revenue to HP's $179 million, but IBM has begun making gains, according to market researcher IDC. Big Blue took the blade market lead from HP in the third quarter.

Ultimately, many expect blade servers to take over much of the market for today's stand-alone servers. However, one person not yet convinced is Robert Marsh, chief executive and "head surfer" of Web site hosting company, who said blades are too expensive to buy today.

"We did take a look at blades, but by and large, the cost related to deployment of blades far surpasses any savings you might gain in space, power or cooling," Marsh said in an interview last week. "They might be a solution for high-end, managed computing, but for the lower-end, entry-level, self-managed products, it did not look compelling."

Marsh isn't a customer to be trifled with: has about 20,000 servers today, and, as part of a data center expansion, just purchased 3,500 new Dell dual-processor servers for shipment in 75 tractor-trailer loads.

HP, the overall leader in the market for x86 servers using chips such as Intel's Xeon or Advanced Micro devices' Opteron, plans future blades as well. The company said it will ship blades using Intel's upcoming "Nocona" version of Xeon, when that chip becomes available, an event scheduled for the second quarter of 2004. And HP plans to ship Opteron-based blades in the third quarter, executives said in February.

Nocona will be Intel's first x86 chip to include 64-bit extensions such as those already found in Opteron, extensions that get around the 4GB memory limit of 32-bit chips.

New low-end servers
Blade servers today are bolted into racks, but they aren't suited for all customers. Many small and midsize companies buy stand-alone servers that need more storage capacity but not as much processing power. For these customers, HP sells its ML100 family.

HP introduced a new model Friday, the single-processor ML110, which incorporates new server technology from Intel called the E7210 chipset, code-named Canterwood ES. The chipset is a collection of supporting chips that connect the processor to memory and input-output systems for storage and networking.

For single-processor servers, Intel previously offered only a chipset for desktop computers. By comparison, the E7210 is better tested to ensure higher reliability than desktop chipsets, and it supports server-specific technology such as higher-speed PCI-X input-output technology for faster network adapters.

An ML110 with a 3.0GHz Pentium 4, an 80GB hard drive and 256MB of memory costs $949. One with a 2.6GHz Celeron processor, a 40GB hard drive and 256MB of memory costs $499.

Prices continue to drop in the server market. A year ago, when HP introduced the ML110's predecessor, the tc2120, $549 bought a system with a 1.8GHz Celeron and 128MB of memory.