Server Honchos Flash Blades

Sun, HP, and IBM show off their telecom blade servers at Supercomm

June 8, 2005

3 Min Read
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CHICAGO Supercomm 2005 – Major blade server vendors gave a peek into their future roadmaps for telecom this week -- and not everyone's on the same page.

Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) offered a demo of its Netra ATCA Blade Platform, the first product from Sun to use the Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (ATCA), an emerging industry standard.

Although still in its infancy, ATCA is expected to provide a standard platform for carrier-grade applications, with support for related standards, such as those from the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI).

Up to now, Sun has revealed little about its ATCA blade plans, though Kirk Mosher, manager for Sun’s network systems group, says the server will support both the Solaris and Linux operating systems, as well as Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD) Opteron and UltraSparc processors.

Sun's first iteration is due to launch later this year, although the vendor has been showing off the UltraSparc processor version, running the Solaris 10 operating system, at Supercomm (see Sun & NTT Comware Demo ATCA Blades). The demo is also running application server technology from NTT Comware Corp. to provide voice, video, and data services.IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) also used Supercomm to reveal more of its own telecom blade strategy, announcing that partner Motorola Computer Group is developing a voice over IP (VOIP) blade for IBM’s BladeCenter-T server (see IBM Unveils New Blade Technologies).

However, IBM is taking a radically different approach when it comes to developing blade technology, and has opted against using the ATCA standard for its BladeCenter-T, which it launched last year (see IBM Flashes Its Blade).

Instead, IBM is attempting to develop its own standard, encouraging a range of network equipment vendors to conform to the BladeCenter-T's underlying architecture. These include vendors of networking switches, adapter cards, and communications blades for enterprise networks (see IBM, Intel Open BladeCenter Specs).

Tim Dougherty, IBM’s director of BladeCenter marketing, reiterated the company’s stance to NDCF. “We don’t believe that ATCA has the capability of extending back into the enterprise,” he says, pointing to the fact that the IBM’s blades can be swapped between the firm’s enterprise and telecom blade servers.

However, the long-term success of IBM’s approach will depend on how many partners the vendor manages to woo. So far, according to Dougherty, more than 200 organizations have downloaded the open specifications for the BladeCenter-T architecture.The third major server vendor, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), has opted to follow the ATCA route. Although the firm did not make any announcements at Supercomm, Tim Leigh, HP’s networks and service provider director, says the firm will launch an ATCA blade server next year. HP has been unwilling to set a specific date for such a launch (see HP Plans ATCA Telecom Blade).

Leigh could not resist a swipe at IBM. “The only reason that BladeCenter-T is getting the press it does is because ATCA is still maturing,” he says.

At least one analyst sees ATCA as likely to win out in the long term. “There could be scope for some proprietary technology moving forward, but I think that the more open platforms will be the best for the industry,” says Elisabeth Rainge, director at analyst firm IDC.

There is another factor in this equation: components. Processor giant Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) is one of the main champions of ATCA, something that could eventually draw IBM closer to the standard, thanks to its reliance on Intel. And Motorola, one of IBM’s major BladeCenter partners, features ATCA prominently in its own communications servers (see Motorola Picks Ethernet for ATCA Servers).

Long-term, IBM may well have to reconsider its stance if ATCA continues to gain momentum in the telecom industry.It's also clear that IBM, Sun, and HP aren't alone in developing ATCA blades; competition is building. Telecom equipment manufacturer Continuous Computing Corp. (CCPU) unveiled its own specialized ATCA blades at Supercomm, the FM30 for switching and the FLexDSP TI320, which supports the ‘triple play’ of voice, video and data (see Continuous Computing Launches ATCA Blade).

— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-Gen Data Center Forum

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