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HP launches new blade server chassis

New blade architecture has better power management features. Company eyes larger piece of fast-growing market.

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Hewlett-Packard unveiled a design for its blade servers Wednesday that will let people cram up to 16 separate servers or storage devices into a 17-inch box.

The HP BladeSystem C-Class is the company's latest attempt at designing a chassis for thin blade servers, which are changing the way enterprise customers think about using their data centers, said Ann Livermore, executive vice president of HP's Technology Solutions Group.

"This is a big announcement that comes in a very small package," Livermore said as she unveiled the new chassis.

The HP BladeSystem 7000c Enclosure fits into standard server racks, taking up 17.5 inches of vertical rack slots, or 10U, with room for 16 different server or storage blades. Two blades based on Intel's new Dempsey and Woodcrest server chips will be the first options for the new chassis. In addition, HP plans to release a blade based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor in September, and another based on Intel's dual-core Montecito Itanium processor by the end of the year.

Blade servers allow IT managers to consolidate their huge racks of servers into smaller packages that are theoretically easier to manage and deploy. "(Blades) are going to be the fastest-growing computing architecture in the history of the computing industry," Livermore said.

Over the next few years, blades will probably start to replace 1U and 2U servers, said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata. "It has advantages in terms of cabling and density," he said.

Cost has been a problem for companies thinking about blades in past years, but that has come down as volumes have grown, he added. HP executives argued that even if the acquisition costs of blades are a little higher, companies can save money with simpler management and lower cooling bills, the old total-cost-of-ownership pitch.

The new HP blades come with improvements in manageability, heat control and virtualization, said Paul Miller, HP's vice president of marketing for industry standard servers.

For example, the blade chassis comes with a small liquid-crystal display screen on the front of the unit that can give administrators information about individual blades or even components within those blades. The C-Class systems can report the thermal situation within the chassis to a management console, allowing administrators to track power consumption and cooling needs across individual blades or different racks.

And a capability called Virtual Connect, which won't be out until September, will reduce the spaghetti-like strands of cabling coming out of the rear of these servers. "Virtual Connect means one module, one cable," said Mark Potter, vice president of HP BladeSystems. The technology will be able to support multiple networking standards and work with storage devices as well as servers, he said.

HP is taking orders for the new systems today, with shipments coming in July, Miller said. Pricing details will be released at that time. More detailed information is available on HP's Web site.

At the moment, IBM and HP are duking it out for the top spot among blade server sellers, and each company spent most of Wednesday disparaging the other. HP executives devoted much of their presentation to making favorable comparisons between their the new blade servers and IBM's BladeCenter products, and IBM representatives wasted little time distributing statements downplaying HP's product announcement.

The truth is, both companies have solid blade servers and will likely stay ahead of other rivals, Haff said.