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Egenera freshens blades with a touch of Opteron

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Egenera this week spruced up its blade server line in a major way with the release of new Opteron-based systems and a refresh of the BladeFrame hardware that sits at the center of the company's technology.

Egenera will shortly roll out two- and four-way Opteron-based blades, making it one of the first companies to use AMD's 64-bit processor in the blade server market. Along with the new blade kit, customers will find release 4.0 of the BladeFrame system that holds all of Egenera's individual servers, management systems and networking gear. The blade maker hopes this revamped kit will attract a broader set of customers than the financial services firms which dominate its base today.

"We are really fueling growth here," said Vern Brownell, chief technology officer at Egenera.

Egenera's story seems to be more positive than that of fellow blade pioneer RLX Technologies. At the end of last year, RLX canned 80 per cent of its staff and pulled out of the hardware market, deciding to sell just its blade management software to server makers instead. This move left Egenera as the main Tier II threat to IBM and HP, which dominate the blade server market.

The biggest charge leveled at Egenera has been its dependency on financial services customers. It filed last year for for an IPO and revealed that a small set of Wall Street customers accounted for a huge chunk of sales. Egenera's focus, however, on the financial services sector kept it afloat when server sales were tough to come by. Now, it hopes to push into new markets.

"We have made a lot of progress over the past year," Brownell said. "We had plans to double our revenue, and we met our targets there. Our number of customers also quadrupled this year. Securities firms make up less than 40 per cent of our business at this point."

Egenera has enjoyed particular growth with hosting and telecommunications customers.

The Opteron blades will mark a concerted 64-bit push on Egenera's part this year. It will join HP as the only major sellers of Opteron blades. Later this year, the company will have an Itanium-based blade. Egenera also plans to start selling Sun Microsystems' 64-bit Solaris 10 operating system on its systems.

"Particularly in the government space, we have a lot of customers who aren't willing to take the step toward Linux or Windows and think Solaris 10 will be the easier move for them," Brownell said.

With the latest iteration of BladeFrame, customers will find a host of tools for carving up servers and divvying workloads across numerous machines. Users can now tweak a server's name, boot properties and characteristics (such as disks and Ethernet ports) all on-the-fly. They can also tap into VMware's GSX server partitioning software to run numerous applications on a single system.

In addition, Egenera has added a chargeback tool that tracks how many CPUs, disks and bandwidth a particular customer or department is using. This data is then sent in XML format to a client's billing system.

Egenera continues to advance the blade computing concept at a quicker clip than the big boys such as IBM and HP. Its technology lead, however, has not been able to stop the sheer might of the Tier I players. After entering the market late, IBM and HP have established themselves as the blade server kings.

It would not be all that surprising to see Egenera fall into the clutches of Sun at some point. Sun has struggled to sell blades, even though it has both UltraSPARC and AMD-based kit. It also has billions in the bank and has made financial services customers a priority once again. ®

Related stories

RLX quits blade server biz, whacks most of staff
Grizzled blade server vet shows 64-bit kit
Dell re-enters the blade-o-sphere
IBM touts poor man's blade server box

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