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Hot Technologies For 2005 On The Front Line

Whether it's blade servers, virtualized storage arrays or security software, VARBusiness' just-completed State of Technology survey highlights the reality that resellers must continue to push the envelope in systems, networking and software if they want to distinguish themselves from direct sellers. In this year's survey (detailed results will appear in VARBusiness' Jan. 10, 2005, issue and online at www.varbusiness.com), VARs also named Voice over IP, 64-bit processors and radio-frequency identification (RFID) as areas they consider likely to constitute breakthrough technologies for their businesses in 2005. In this article, we're putting some perspective behind those projections, with technology-based snapshots of these hot segments.

Blade Servers Bust Out
Spurred by the advent of new 64-bit microprocessor technologies and the enthusiastic uptake of Linux, VARs don't find many areas where they move more units than in blade servers. The market is growing at a torrid pace -- blade revenues for this year's second quarter total $233 million, according to IDC, for an annual run-rate of nearly $1 billion. So it's not unexpected that Tier 1 vendors IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Sun Microsystems are stoking their respective channels with hot products aplenty as they fight a pitched battle for the blade high ground.

With its BladeCenter lineup, IBM is successfully working a dual-processor strategy. Some of the models, like the JS20, sport IBM's homegrown Power architecture. Other models use Intel's x86-compatible Xeon server processor applied in one- to four-way configurations. In a savvy bid to build mindshare for BladeCenter, IBM has opened up its design specification to encourage third-party vendors to develop networking switches and adapter cards that fit into BladeCenter systems. Opening the spec also should spur the creation of function-specific, network-edge appliances, such as hardware firewalls, intrusion-detection devices and XML accelerators.

For its part, HP is thinking beyond the server box when it comes to its BladeSystem family, pitching it as a total "infrastructure" solution that uses tools such as HP's Systems Insight Manager software to create a virtualized network. Resellers would do well to study HP's tack, since marketing mere blades doesn't seem nearly as savvy as selling full-fledged utility computing solutions. And though it is a ways back from IBM and HP, Sun, nevertheless, is going full-speed ahead in blades. Its Sun Fire B100x and B1660 blade platforms give VARs the flexibility of offering customers a mix-and-match assortment of Sparc and x86 processing power, and Solaris and Linux operating systems control.

There's Something About 64 Bits
What's bigger than a desktop PC but not quite as hefty as those expensive RISC-processor-based boxes that are replacing yesteryear's mainframes? If your answer is a commodity server, you're definitely a reseller with a clue. Consider this: Unit sales of commodity servers based on AMD's high-flying Opteron processors soared 81 percent in the second quarter of 2004, IDC says. Why do customers care about Opteron? Mostly because it's 64-bit. Actually, it's a hybrid 32-/64-bit CPU, which can run both 32- and 64-bit software via a set of 64-bit instruction-set extensions. AMD kicked off the category in 2003 with its AMD64 architecture and companion 64-bit instruction-set extensions. These are implemented in AMD's Opteron server (and companion Athlon 64-bit desktop) processors. IBM, HP and Sun have all rolled out Opteron servers, as have numerous white-box builders.

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