IBM taps VMware, Citrix to create blade PCs

After spending the past few years on the sidelines, IBM Wednesday jumped headlong into the blade PC market, announcing partnerships with Citrix and VMware to provide users with the means to manage desktop PCs from a secure, centralized location.

With its Virtualized Hosted Client Infrastructure, IBM joins ClearCube and HP in the market that goes beyond traditional thin client computing by actually moving the guts of a PC to blade servers that are hosted in a data center or computer room, providing what proponents say is better PC security and easier manageability.

End users have only a monitor, keyboard and mouse -- and a specialized client device in the case of ClearCube and HP -- on their desks to link back to the blade servers, where the intelligence of their systems resides. IBM executives say their new hosted-PC offering, which will be available through IBM Global Services, will link to any client device over Ethernet using standard protocols.

In addition, IBM is enabling end users to tap into virtual PCs, rather than requiring that each client link back to a single, physical server, as is the case with ClearCube and HP.

"Typically, if you've got a single blade for a single desktop, those servers are going to be down two-thirds of the day after people head home -- and that represents a pretty significant infrastructure investment," says Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research. "IBM is making the pitch that if you can support the same number of desktops with one-eighth the number of servers, you're going to end up with much higher utilization of your IT infrastructure."

IBM hasn't been hot on the PC market, selling its PC business to Lenovo last year. When it came to blade PCs, Big Blue was lukewarm, choosing to partner with market leader ClearCube.

But now IBM sees opportunity. By partnering with VMware and Citrix, IBM is rolling out a blade PC offering of its own that enables end users to run multiple virtual PCs on a single blade.

"It can range depending on workload and utilization, but some of the pilots we're engaged in have an average utilization of 12 to 15 virtual machines [per blade]," says Juhi Jotwani, director of xSeries and BladeCenter solutions at IBM.

With IBM's BladeCenter able to hold up to 14 blades, users could pack more than 200 clients into a single chassis, cutting costs by as much as 60 percent and seeing a return on investment in as few as six months, IBM executives claim.

VMware's ESX Server software enables users to slice each physical blade server into multiple virtual PCs running different operating systems. The Citrix Presentation Server provides the ability for remote users to tap into fully functional PCs that including print capabilities and USB drive support.

Analysts say IBM is offering an interesting alternative to ClearCube and HP's Consolidated Client Infrastructure because of the virtualization piece.

In addition, because the offering is hosted, remote and mobile end users can tap into the blade PCs, reducing the cost and time associated with supporting them.

IBM's Virtual Hosted Client Infrastructure, which will run on two-processor Xeon- and Opteron-based blades, is available now for pilot deployments through IBM Global Services and will be generally available in the first quarter of next year, Jotwani says. Pricing was not released.

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