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Blade growth to be stymied

Gartner projects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 19 % for blade shipments from 2007 through 2012. The dramatic growth in blade shipments, however, does not translate to market domination — in 2007, blades represented 10 % of shipments and Gartner forecasts this will rise to 20 % in 2012.

“We are not suggesting that IT organizations stay away from blades — blades do address many problems in the data center,” said Andrew Butler, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner. “What we are saying is that IT organizations adopting blades need to be prepared for further changes in this technology. Blade servers have been a rapidly changing technology, and we fully expect this to continue, particularly during the next five years.”

“Blade servers have a number of proprietary aspects, and the market lacks interoperability standards that lock uses into the technology,” said John Enck, managing vice president at Gartner. “Organizations must recognize that blade adoption needs to be a strategic vendor partnership decision and not a tactical purchase.”

Blade servers have been a rapidly changing technology, and this is expected to continue. Gartner analysts highlighted changes in this technology for the next two to five years. During the next two years, Gartner predicts the following changes will further alter the market:

Blade Server Aggregation — This feature allows for two blades to be logically joined, creating a single logical server that can then be provisioned at the bare-metal level. Gartner predicts that logically joining blades to create single server blades from multiple physical blades will become a standard blade server capability by 2010.

Faster input/output (I/O) Connections — Fabric speeds are continuing to increase; 10 gigabit (10Gb) Ethernet is entering the market, equivalent InfiniBand speeds are coming and speeds for both fabrics will increase beyond 10Gb.

Improved I/O Controls — Blade vendors will deliver increased controls to aggregate, disaggregate and prioritize bandwidth to individual blades and virtual machines running on those blades. By 2011, increased virtualization adoption will make I/O quality of service controls a standard feature of blade servers.

More Flexible Storage Options — Storage technology associated with blades will advance to a point where storage can be added to a chassis and then assembled into storage area network pools and network-attached storage pools, or tied to blade servers in a direct-attached storage-like configuration.

Deeper Integration with Virtualization — Gartner expects blade vendors to drive deeper integration between virtualization and blades, including support for embedded hypervisors and further integration of virtual machine management with physical machine management.

Management Software Enhancements — Blade vendors are focusing on new functionality, integration and interface enhancements on their blade management tools, to help stimulate preference for blades over other form factors.

Beyond the 24-month window, but still within the five-year planning window, Gartner anticipates the following set of additional changes:

Chassis Interconnections — Today the chassis represents an infrastructure boundary. However, in three to five years time, chassis interconnects will enable resources to be shared. Although Gartner expects this innovation to be introduced as a blade market capability, it will eventually become a valuable direction for other server form factors as well.

Memory Aggregation — Memory aggregation will enable one blade to use memory located on other blades in the server. The net effect will be to increase memory footprints for an operating system beyond the physical capacity of a single blade. This will further drive implementation of blade server aggregation to create larger-style, virtual symmetric multiprocessor designs. By 2012, memory and chassis aggregation will enable blade technology to address large vertically scaling workloads.

Standards for Switch Modules — The current chassis do not currently support a common interface and as a result, third-party companies such as Cisco and Brocade must make unique products for each and every server vendor. This is inefficient use of their R&D resources. Gartner predicts an interface and form-factor standard will be introduced during this time frame to enable third-party companies to manufacture products common to multiple vendor chassis. However, it is unlikely that other blade- or chassis-related standards will be agreed on by major vendors during the next five years.

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