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PC Blades: Poised To Take Off?

Guy Fuller, manager of I.T. for the Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group, had a problem that many business-technology executives face: how to provide the power and flexibility offered by a PC to doctors and nurses working in the group's 11 clinics in the Chicago area, while also setting up a system that provides tough security and easy manageability.

Fuller had some additional challenges. He wanted to provide that computing power in examination rooms unobtrusively, but he also needed to comply with new regulations governing data privacy. He turned to a technology that's starting to gain a foothold in enterprise data centers: PC blades.

Only about 40,000 PC blades were shipped last year, but analysts predict that number will jump to 350,000 this year and to 6.5 million in 2008. The emerging market got a boost last month when Hewlett-Packard shipped its first PC blade. HP joins a market that to date has been pioneered by smaller players such as ClearCube Technology Inc. and Avocent Corp. in conjunction with Cubix Corp. Other major PC vendors like Dell and IBM are waiting for the market to grow and mature.

"You've got HP now ratifying a market that up to this point only small vendors have played in," says Roger Kay, an analyst with research firm IDC. "Other PC vendors are looking at how this comes out."

The definition of a PC blade and its configuration can vary. But it's similar in function to the more established server blade. In some instances, the two platforms overlap. A typical implementation consists of a board containing a processor and related components. The board, or blade, is placed in server-style racks. Each one is then connected by Category 5 cable or fiber to a dedicated client station consisting of a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. All processing, memory, and storage remain in the backroom rack.

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