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IBM Rolls Out Blades for Virtual Desktops, Hollywood Movies
The State of the Blade
February 9, 2006
IBM and some of its customers are starting to test new "virtual desktop" solutions running atop Linux-, Unix-, and Windows-based blade servers, including three souped-up systems rolled out at an event in New York City this week. Meanwhile, all IBM blade servers, old and new, are now being outfitted with new Linux-enabled management controllers, regardless of which OS the servers running.
IBM is offering its blades servers--the ultra high performance multicore Cell server, virtualization-oriented JS21, and energy-conserving HS20--with a choice of Linux, Windows, AIX, and even Solaris OS, said Bill Zeitler, senior VP and group executive of IBM's Systems and Technology Group, speaking at the press and customer event.
"But not HP-UX," noted Jeff Benck, VP of development in IBM's System Technology Group, in a meeting with LinuxPlanet, also during the event. "We think of HP-UX as an older technology."
IBM's ultra low power, cost-conscious HS20 blade server will ship with processors from either Intel or AMD, Zeitler said during a press Q&A.
The IBM Power-based JS21, on the other hand, is being touted as the first blade server in the industry to provide built-in virtualization.
Benck told LinuxPlanet IBM has been working with software partners VMWare, ClearCube Technology, and Citrix Systems as well as with customers on testing virtualized desktop technology, for remote access to applications running on the super-fast systems.
More formally, IBM is referring to the virtualized desktop technology as the Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure.
IBM customer Paul Davril Inc., a supplier to designer clothing lines such as Kenneth Cole and Sketchers, is already testing two HS20 machines--one running Linux, and the other operating AIX--for a Lotus Sametime-based portal application, according to Dave Robbins, the company's IT director.
The apparel-maker is also eyeing the possibility of a VM test about a year from now, Robbins said in another interview.
If the VM test does happen at Paul Davril, it will involve virtualization of an ERP application now operating out of servers located in the company's sourcing offices in Hong Kong.
But of IBM's three latest blade servers, the Cell server attracted the most attention this week, probably due to demos of its rendering performance in geographic flyby and medical imaging applications.
Billed as the industry's first multi-core blade system, the Cell blade system is based on the same Cell chip first co-developed by IBM, Sony, and Toshiba for use in Playstation game machines.
IBM's new Cell blade system is geared to HPC solutions. But, Zeitler maintained, as more compute power gets added, HPC blade applications are growing beyond traditional scientific-technical solutions into areas such as medical diagnostic testing and animated film production.
"You just can't make an animated film any more--[like those] from Disney and DreamWorks--without blades. Nobody does," said Tom Burns, director of pos-production infrastructure for Camarillo, CA-based Technicolor, in a customer panel at the event.
When the Cell blade's power is applied to medical imaging, patients won't have to wait a few days for results of tests such as CT scans. Instead, doctors will be able to show them the outcomes of the diagnostic tests right away, according to the IBM officials.
IBM also used this week's event to take jibes at HP--still the company's closest competitor in the blades market--and somewhat more gently at Sun.
On stage at the event, Zeitler and Susan M. Whitney, IBM's general manager for xSeries, gleefully presented a side-by-side demo depicting the smaller and lighter components of IBM's blade versus those of HP, smiling and cracking jokes along the way.
"IBM's blades are truly disruptive technology, if disruption means real change," observed Donald Haback, PE, an analyst at the Matterhorn Group, commenting to LinuxPlanet just afterward.
"HP is toast," interjected Daniel Lavery, another analyst at Matterhorn.
But Zeitler also charged that IBM's blades perform better on Sun's blade benchmarks than blade servers from Sun itself.
In another announcement that same day, IBM, Intel and about 40 partners officially launched Blade.org, an "open community" for blade development that actually started coming together more than a year ago.
IBM announced the availability of updated "open specifications" for its latest blades. Other members include Red Hat, Novell, AMD, and VMWare, for instance.
Yet in a quieter move, IBM rolled out a new internal initiative a few weeks ago, according to sources at the company.
Headed up by Adalio Sanchez, previously of IBM's Linux group, the new arm of IBM is working on engineering projects with other vendors, along the lines of the already completed Xbox deal between IBM and Microsoft.
So how else are IBM customers using blades? Most HPC customers are running blades on either Linux or Solaris, according to Benck.
IBM is targeting its midrange and lower end blades, on the other hand, at financial services, retail stores, government, and "really all SMBs," he said later.
Practically all of IBM's financial services users are running Linux on their blades, often for number-crunching applications, according to the VP.
IBM has already come up with several packaged blade solutions--including one for retail stores and branch banking--and is pondering the creation of some more, Benck told LinuxPlanet.
Future possibilities include blade packages for data analysis and enterprise resource planning, he said.
Benck added that he expects members of Blade.org will be chiming in with more solutions.
Value-added reseller AVNet, a founding member of the new blades community, is now participating with retail stores and other SMBs around new applications in video surveillance management, said Sara Jensen, Avnet's vice president of product marketing, in another meeting.
VMWare, another member of Blade.org, is working with a number of different IBM blades customers on virtualization, including the Community College of Baltimore and Wisconsin-based Dean Health Systems, said Raghu Rahuram, VMWare's vice president for data center and desktop platform products.
Citrix Systems is supplying the "remote connectivity" piece of VMWare's virtual desktop offering for blades, said IBM's Benck.
Also in conjunction with the blades rollout, IBM unveiled a new appliance known as the Advanced Management Module, along with several other management and integration tools for blades.
Available immediately for all IBM blade servers running Linux, AIX, Solaris, and Windows, the Linux-enabled device takes the place of IBM's previous management controller, which used a proprietary RTOS-based embedded OS, said Benck.
The new controller also uses industry standards such as CIM (Common Information Model) and SMASH (Systems Management Architecture for Server Hardware) in place of proprietary technologies, according to Benck. IBM will make the new module available for older blade servers, too, he told LinuxPlanet.
Other new capabilities for the blade systems include a new power management suite known as Power Executive; an iSCSI connection between the BladeCenter and System i5 for virtual storage, networking an tape resources; and integration between OS 4690 and the IBM Retail Store Systems controller also available for BladeCenters.