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Egenera grooms Nehalem EP blades

Dell re-ups PAN Manager deal

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Among the many niche server makers that are readying products that make use of Intel's "Nehalem EP" Xeon 5500 processors announced last week, you'll find Egenera, the outfit that never quite made it as a volume server maker but that still has high hopes for its PAN Manager blade management software.

Back in October 2007, Egenera - an up-and-coming blade server maker hatched out of the IT bowels of investment banker Goldman Sachs - split its Processor Area Network Manager systems software and its BladeFrame blade server platform. The company didn't want to do this, of course, since the BladeFrame was a system and designed as such. But, economic reality compelled Egenera to seek OEM agreements for its management software with other server makers.

So, three years ago, Egenera moved in exactly the opposite direction that Cisco Systems is trying to go now with its "California" Unified Computing System blade setup that was announced three weeks ago. This only goes to show you the inertia in the server racket that Cisco, like Egenera before it, is facing.

While Egenera doesn't make a lot of noise these days, the company does still sell and support its BladeFrame servers, and it has expanded its OEM deal with Dell for PAN Manager to cover its Xeon 5500-based M610 blade servers.

According to Christine Crandell, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Egenera, the company is working to get its own Xeon 5500 blades to market, which it plans to get out the door "in a couple of months" and which the company did not announce last week because these blades are not generally available yet. (Unlike some server makers, who jumped the gun to try to grease the skids for some sales ahead of shipments).

Crandell says that Egenera company has over 300 customers and over 1,400 installations at this point, and as Egenera has been saying for years, it will continue to make iron for its existing customers and seek out new ones for the BladeFrames. Fujitsu Technology Solutions (formerly Fujitsu-Siemens) has an OEM agreement for the BladeFrame and PAN Manager setup that runs until 2010, an extension of $300m, 30-month deal that Egenera landed in September 2005. Right now, Egenera has four-socket server blades that are based on AMD's dual-core Opteron 8200 and Intel's six-core Xeon 7400s.

Those quad-socket Opteron blades are pretty long in the tooth, as are the two-socket blades using the dual-core Opteron 2200 series chips. But Egenera does have fairly recent "Harpertown" Xeon 5400 two-socket blades for customers to get by with until the Nehalem EP blades are ready. It seems clear that Egenera has not met with much success peddling Opteron blades. Otherwise, it would have already been shipping quad-core "Shanghai" Opteron 8400s and 2400s.

Crandell says that the March 2008 Dell OEM agreement to peddle PAN Manager - what Dell calls PAN System - on Dell's PowerEdge 10G blade servers was last summer extended to rack servers and to the PowerEdge 11G servers launched last week. The Dell deal is non-exclusive, says Crandell, and the company is in discussions with other server makers to get similar OEM agreements.

It is hard to imagine that IBM or HP would OEM the software, but Sun Microsystems or Fujitsu certainly could. But you would have thought they would have done it by now, 18 months after Egenera started pushing PAN Manager on an OEM basis. Fujitsu has its own Triole management software, however, and Sun is working on its own xVM OpsCenter management software for LDom and Xen partitions. That leaves a whole lot of whitebox players, which is a market but which takes a lot more legwork to make happen.

Maybe Egenera can do what a lot of software companies do: go open source. Egenera could take PAN Manager open source, letting it free in the hopes of turning it into a support-only business, as Red Hat has done with the Linux operating system to name the best example. This strategy doesn't always work, of course. And if you want to be honest, very few companies can make a profit this way, as Sun Microsystems has learned the hard way after open sourcing the family jewels of Solaris and Java. ®

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