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IBM crafts blades for telcos

Big Blue is coming out with a blade server system for telecommunications carriers, another step in the effort by computer companies to take over the market for telecommunications gear.

IBM is coming out with a blade server system geared toward telecommunications carriers, another step in the effort by computer companies to take over the market for telecommunications gear.

The BladeCenter T, which won't be released until the first half of 2004, is a derivative of the company's existing BladeCenter systems that's been re-engineered and filled with software for the particular demands of telecommunications customers.

The rack in the BladeCenter T setup is only 20 inches deep, for example, rather than the usual 28 inches, to accommodate the server rooms typically found at communications carriers. The system also complies with the Network Equipment Building Specification (NEBS), a series of rigorous tests meant to ensure that gear will continue to work despite fires or earthquakes. Some of the testing procedures involve applying a blowtorch to the server.

"The platform we had didn't meet all of the requirements of the customer set," said Jeff Benck, director of X series servers at IBM. Specially designed switches from Nortel Networks will slide into the rack.

IBM will also load the server with a carrier-grade version of the Linux operating system and with applications from its WebSphere software portfolio geared toward the communications market. Among other things, the applications are designed to make it easier for carriers to let customers carry their phone numbers from one location to another. Additionally, Big Blue will build service offerings for installing and managing these systems.

IBM will announce the server on June 3, at SuperComm 2003 in Atlanta. Earlier this week, IBM and Cisco announced a similar customized system for streaming media.

The computer industry has had its eye on the telecommunications equipment market for years. Historically, communications equipment makers have kept a tight rein on product development, choosing to design their own servers and most of the crucial parts that go inside them.

The economic meltdown, however, has forced these companies to lay off tens of thousands of employees. As a result, many are now looking to obtain standardized components and computers from IBM, Intel and other computing companies.

At the same time, these companies are shifting from running analog networks, like traditional phone networks, to digital networks, which can carry voice and data. By adopting digital equipment, carriers can provide more services such as Wi-Fi communications, said Mike Maas, vice president of the communications sector at IBM.

"We're seeing a fundamental shift from analog to digital," Maas said.

The BladeCenter T system also highlights the continuing evolution of blade servers. Initially, companies sought to cram as many blades as they could into racks.

Now there is less emphasis on density and more on functionality, with companies experimenting on putting as many different types of functions into blade racks as possible. More than 100 companies are developing software and hardware for IBM's blade system.

The general design of the BladeCenter T comes out of the blade server alliance between IBM and Intel. As a result, other manufacturers will be able to obtain parts and specifications to design similar systems. These units won't contain IBM's software but will be the same from a hardware perspective.