With the major hardware vendors now jumping on the server blade bandwagon, blades are becoming big business and are one of the few segments of the server market still experiencing rapid growth.
"For vendors to gain any competitive advantage and enjoy market share from this cycle disruption, the blade product offering must include demonstrable advantages for customers over rack-optimized servers," said Jeffrey Hewitt, principal analyst covering servers for Gartner Dataquest''s Computing Platform Worldwide group.
"These include significant space advantages, proven ease of installation and removal, and management software that facilitates the installation of blades into an enterprise environment," Hewitt added.
Gartner Dataquest advises enterprises looking at blade server technology to weigh their priorities carefully before deciding whether to use blade servers. If server density is an overriding concern, then customers may feel an urgency to adopt blade technology as soon as possible. This need must be balanced with the lack of compatibility that will exist between blades from different vendors.
Gartner Dataquest believes that this lack of compatibility will slow the market''s growth.
"A lack of standards will be a primary market inhibitor as many end users will be reluctant to install a blade server that appears to be proprietary. This restriction on blade server demand will encourage the development of a standard designed specifically for blade servers to which the worldwide server vendors adhere," said Hewitt. "The acceptance of such a standard should help reduce end-user inhibition to install blade servers."
Gartner Dataquest analysts therefore recommend server vendors help drive the development of a blade server standard.
Hewlett-Packard hopes to be one such vendor. On Tuesday, HP announced OpenBlade, an open specification for blade servers designed to drive the development of standards-based blade server architectures and in turn provide enterprises with interoperable, multivendor blade server solutions.
The OpenBlade spec extends and complements the CompactPCI (cPCI) standards with the addition of enterprise computing functionality, such as Fibre Channel connections to SAN and NAS storage, and remote management capabilities through the use of an on-board management LAN.
Until a de facto standard is reached (whether HP''s or another), however, Gartner Dataquest recommends vendors have a blade server product line to keep from being "locked out" of sales that require blade solutions. Partnering with smaller blade vendors or leveraging current development efforts are efficient ways to enter this market without overspending.
Gartner Dataquest analysts also suggest that most enterprises considering purchasing a blade server hold out for more mature products that adhere to standards truly developed for blade servers. The products under consideration should include significant server density advantages as well as software and hardware management and availability features.
More detailed analysis on the blade server market is available in the Gartner Spotlight report "Server Blades: The New Cutting Edge for Servers." The report is available for purchase via Gartner''s Web site or telephone at +1 408 468 8000.