IBM is developing a blade workstation, set to hit the market later this year, that moves the workstation from under a desk into the data centre.
IBM will preview the BladeCenter HC 10 blade and the companion TC 10 desktop client at this week's IBM Partnerworld in St. Louis. IBM collaborated with partner, Devon IT, which makes thin client terminals, to develop the products.
Individual workstations in offices have become a problem. When they're sitting under a desk, the heat build-up can be significant, particularly in situations where two or more workstations are underfoot. Also, a workstation presents maintenance and security problems to IT staff.
With a blade workstation in the data centre, the heat is away from workers, IT staff can more easily access the machines for maintenance and upgrades.
"You wouldn't work on your automobile in your living room, because you don't have the workers, the tools or the setup," chief technology officer for IBM's System x and BladeCenter product lines, Tom Bradicich, said. "Similarly, you don't want to run the workloads on the desktop that are more suited to be back in the data centre where there are the tools, the management, the security, the power and the cooling capability."
Devon IT invested $US8 million in the research and development of the thin client that goes with the IBM blade workstation.
"It helps CIOs in companies to centralise their desktops but get a very, very rich desktop experience," president of Devon IT, Joe Makoid, said.
The IBM blade workstation is aimed at power computer users such as workers in financial services, computer-aided design or graphic design. Some of them had more than one workstation at or under their desks but also needed a client that delivered high-end graphics, Bradicich said.
The BladeCenter workstation featured a graphics accelerator processor that delivered high-resolution graphics to the monitor, he said.
HP, IBM's chief rival, introduced a blade workstation product in November. It uses software to provide the same graphic accelerator function as IBM's processor, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, a technology consulting firm, Roger Kay, said.
IBM's graphics accelerator compressed the data feed, passed it over the network to the client and reconstituted it out there, Kay said. There were other benefits to blade workstations, too, he said. "Blades are also better for availability because typically there's software that allows you to failover from one blade to another, so you can recover your working environment pretty fast," Kay said.
IDC does not track sales of blade workstations, but it does track blade servers and workstations in general, both of which are growing more popular.
It reports the overall workstation market grew, both in revenue and shipments, in the fourth quarter of 2006, compared to the fourth quarter of 2005. The blade server market is healthy, too. Revenue grew by 18.2 per cent and shipments grew 16.9 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2006, compared to the year-earlier quarter, according to IDC.
HP was the blade server revenue market leader with a 41.9 per cent share, followed by IBM's 37 per cent. But for all of 2006, IBM ranked first with a 40 per cent share to HP's 37.4 per cent.