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Four-Xeon IBM blade server due February

The model, with four 2.8GHz Xeon MP chips and a memory capacity of 16GB, is much slimmer than that offered by rival Hewlett-Packard.

IBM on Wednesday announced a four-processor blade server, a Xeon processor-based model much slimmer than that offered by rival Hewlett-Packard.

The HS40, with four 2.8GHz Xeon MP chips and a memory capacity of 16GB, is expected to be generally available Feb. 17. IBM plans to set and disclose its price in late January.

As expected, as many as seven of the 60mm-wide systems can be slid vertically into a 12.25-inch-tall IBM BladeCenter chassis. The enclosure also can simultaneously accommodate the 30mm-wide HS20 or JS20 blade servers, with dual Xeon and PowerPC 970 processors, respectively.

Though the HS40 will arrive more than a year after HP's four-processor BL40p blade system, it's considerably smaller. Two BL40p systems fit side-by-side in a 10.5-inch-tall enclosure.

"IBM was a bit slow getting into blades but, with this announcement, they now have quite a broad product line--and one that's selling well by all indications," Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said.

IBM blade shipments and revenue overtook HP in the third quarter of 2003, according to market researcher IDC. The market is young, but growing fast, expanding 763 percent to $164 million in the third quarter, IDC said.

Blade servers typically fit side by side in a single chassis, vertically like books in a bookshelf, or horizontally like platters stacked in a cabinet. The systems share common infrastructure such as networking gear and power supplies.

Server makers tout blades as a way to save floor space by packing computers more densely; to ease the nightmarish tangle of power and networking cables that festoons today's racks of independent servers; to make remote management easier; and ultimately to make it easier to move computing tasks from one system to another to respond to equipment failures or changing work demands.

Many believe that blade servers will gradually take over from independent rack-mounted servers, systems that are standardized to be 19-inches wide and have their height measured in 1.75-inch increments, called a rack unit or "U." A standard rack is 42U tall--just over six feet.

Blade server chassis also mount into racks. With IBM's 7U BladeCenter, a total of 42 four-processor servers will fit into a single rack, a significantly denser configuration compared with stand-alone servers.

Also on Wednesday, IBM announced it's shipping a four-processor stand-alone server, the x365. This system, 5.25-inches (or 3U) tall, accommodates as many as six hard drives, capacity that can't be achieved with blade servers.

An x365 with two 2.8GHz Xeon processors and 2GB of memory costs $15,599, though a bare-bones model with a single processor costs $6,039.