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Hewlett-Packard has at last taken the the wraps off its Blade servers. It's a much more ambitious programme than you might have suspected, encompassing HP's own PA-RISC chips as well as Intel Pentium IIIs, and the new 'PowerBar' chassis will find its way into storage and other specialised servers too.

Surprisingly the first offerings will be Linux-only, with Windows and HP-UX to follow. Red Hat, SuSE and Debian - chalk one up for HP's Linux advisor, Bruce Perens - are the favoured distros.

One thing blades aren't is ultra dense. Or even dense. Blade servers from RLX crammed over 300 CPUs in a small space, with RLX claiming an eightfold increase in density over today's racks. Not so with "hp blades servers", as HP styles them (the marketing department which gave us the "rp8400" moniker a few months ago still hasn't fixed the shift key).

The new chassis, the 'PowerBar' accomodates 38 blades, and three chassis fit in a 2 meter rack. by HP's maths, that's 48 in a 40u box. The chassis is 18in deep, 19in wide and 13u tall. So the density is 0.83 better, rather than 8:1 as the Crusoe-powered RLX hardware.

No, blades is really about new packaging, but HP reckons that the packaging will be compelling, as it tidies the rats nest of cables behind your typical rack. John Miller, HP's product manager for Unix servers, says the new blades offer a 17 per cent gain in TCO, and all the new kit is tied to HP's OpenView management software, and SystemImager and TurboLinux's PowerCockpit (it's really called that).

HP arrives at the 17 per cent figure like this: a 49-way blade with 700MHz PIIIs, 512MB of RAM and 90GB of disk will be $138,615. Slightly more than a Compaq DL320, but HP reckons on $40,000 saving in hosting facility floor space, and $20,000 lower electricity costs over three years.

That's the first batch of Linux blades. HP plans blades for "servers storage and everything in-between", with dedicated network blades sporting Gbit or 10-Gbit Ethernet.

AMD, Transmeta not out of the loop

John Miller tells us that Transmeta was evaluated, but rejected, "because you need a certain level of performance." The company would continue to evaluate Transmeta and AMD processors.

Why did he think that RLX and the ultra dense start ups had failed to make an impact on the market?

"They don't have the delivery capability to offer the full solution," he said, referring to the management and software stacks HP also offers.

The Linux blades can be ordered today for delivery in early January. The RISC blades will follow next year. ®

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