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Blade server channel opportunities: HP, IBM, Dell?

As the blade server market continues to grow in customer shops everywhere, IBM, HP and Dell offer channel partner programs that allow resellers to sell and support blade servers effectively.

With many changes in blade servers over the past year -- in products, programs and market share -- blades today represent significant opportunities for channel partners. Understanding these changes and the major vendor offerings (in particular from HP, IBM and Dell) can help you make smarter decisions about whether to jump on the blade server bandwagon, when and with whom.

Blade server product offerings and changes

In general, blade server systems have continued to grow from adolescence to adulthood this year. As articulated by HP's "Blade Everything" slogan, most vendors have moved from the early days of low-end blades to today's broad product lines through which anything offered on rack servers is also available on blades. Other improvements include I/O and power advances, addressing previous concerns around blades as a platform for virtualization. Today's blade servers offer:

  • Dual-core and quad-core processors.
  • Two- and four-socket blades.
  • High-speed interconnect options -- GigE and 10GigE, 2 and 4 MB FC, InfiniBand.
  • Support for increased I/O capability (number of NICs, HBAs, aggregate speed).
  • Improvements in power and cooling efficiency and power management.
  • Advances in I/O virtualization.

    Some blade server specifics by vendor:


    HP's new-generation BladeSystem c-Class chassis was introduced last year, with significant improvements in I/O, power and cooling and overall architectural advances. The blade server system has been extremely well-accepted by users, both traditional HP customers and converts. Other features of HP's blade server offerings include:

  • Virtual Connect -- HP/QLogic module which allows pooling of Mac Addresses and WorldWide Names to simplify configuration management for both IP and FC networking.
  • Workstation and PC blades -- options for both PC blades which run in their own chassis for PC-level function, and workstation blades which run in the c-Class chassis and offer high-end workstation capability.
  • Integrity Blades -- built on Intel Itanium platform for enterprise-/mainframe-class capability on a commoditized server.
  • IBM

    IBM BladeCenter now offers five different chassis options, with forward/backward compatibility to the earliest IBM blade servers, and blade interoperability throughout the product line. Newer chassis have improved on high-speed options and power efficiency.

  • The newest chassis is the BladeCenter S, packaged for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) and remote branch offices as a smaller and simpler chassis with switched SAS storage built-in. It is slated to ship Q4 2007.
  • Open Fabric Manager allows central management of pooled LAN and SAN connections across third-party switches, with additional automated failover capability.
  • Workstation blade using new graphics compression capability from Teradici for remote high-end 3D graphics at near local speed. Slated to ship in late September.


    Dell's PowerEdge blades are consistent with Dell's overall approach, offering a lower-cost, easy-to-use, commodity product.

  • Focus is on simplicity of the out-of-the-box experience.
  • Lower-cost options than HP and IBM.
  • New chassis coming soon, which Dell says will address ease of deployment and power and I/O improvements. Will replace current chassis/blades.
  • Blade server partner programs

    All three vendors are talking about significant investment in enabling the channel, particularly in the SMB space. All described a variety of programs being launched to help channel partners come up to speed on everything from how to sell blade servers, how to set up service offerings around blades, how to set up blade solution centers and specific blade features. Here are a few examples of what vendors are doing to help the channel with blades:


  • Blade Builder University -- a free class on how to sell blade servers, how to make money, overcoming objections and myths and training in power and networking (may be new to partners used to selling only boxed servers).
  • Blade Connect -- an online blade community for connecting partners, customers and experts around blades and specific issues.
  • Blade Elite program -- rewards and incentives.
  • Blade sales tools -- an online system selling guide, power calculator and TCO tool.


  • Business Partner Innovation Centers -- IBM says they are investing in these innovation centers to allow users to see new technology and to help jump-start the channel.
  • Blade Migration Centers -- offering services and training on management tools, deployment, blade hardware and virtualization. Staff from development labs work with customers to help make the transition from racks to blades easier. For no cost, advocates provide services at the customer's site.
  • Blade and Storage Solution Centers -- a new program for showcasing solutions for SMB clients at selected channel partner sites with financial support from IBM, including hardware and software.
  • Partner Advocacy Program -- for a select group of partners, allowing direct feedback to IBM on BladeCenter.


  • No specifics yet, but new direction from Michael Dell is to increase focus on the channel.

    Blade server market

    Market share numbers over the past few years have consistently shown IBM and HP vying for the

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    lead, each having between 35% and 40% of the market share, with Dell lagging behind at 9% to 11%. This year, for the first time, HP passed IBM in its market share by quarter, for several quarters in a row. Speculation credits this shift in leadership to the improvements in the HP c-Class chassis, and/or to HP doing a good job of listening to both its customers and its channel partners. IBM hopes that its new SMB chassis will help it regain its lead in the coming quarters.

    The blade market overall has continued to grow, despite a general slowdown in overall server shipments, most likely due to consolidation and virtualization. Although blades currently represent only 5% to 10% of the server market, IDC has estimated that blades will grow to 30% of the server market by 2009. According to an IDC report in 2007, adoption of blade servers for virtualization was 26.7%, over four times that of the general market. Clearly blades represent a growing opportunity, particularly in consolidation and virtualization. If you haven't investigated blades yet, it's definitely worth a look, especially given the motivation of the major vendors in using blades as a way to engage the channel and go after the SMB market.

    Barb Goldworm is president and chief analyst of Focus Consulting, a research, analyst and consulting firm focused on systems, software and storage. Barb has spent 30 years in various technical, marketing, senior management and industry analyst positions with IBM, Novell, StorageTek, Enterprise Management Associates and multiple successful startups. A frequent speaker, columnist and author of numerous white papers and research studies, she recently released a book entitled Blade Servers and Virtualization: Transforming Enterprise Computing While Cutting Costs, published by Wiley. In 2007, she chaired the Server Blade Summit on Blades and Virtualization, and she has been the keynote speaker at numerous events on both virtualization and blades. She previously created and chaired the network storage track of Interop and has been one of the top three ranked analyst/knowledge expert speakers at Storage Networking World. Email Barb.

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