Who’s your blade server daddy?

A couple of weeks ago Gartner released their October 2009 magic Quadrant for blade server report. If you have been tracking blade servers, you know the market has been rapidly adopting new technology due to the tidal wave of server virtualization. 10Gb Ethernet, 8Gb Fibre Channel, 10Gb FCoE, and 4x Infiniband have all come to market in 2009 in a strong way.

This summer Cisco, for the first time, has entered the server market with their UCS portfolio. So I was interested in seeing what Gartner had to say about the existing market and what impact Cisco will have.

First, a few factoids from the Gartner report:

  • HP is the market leader, by a long shot. They ship more blade servers than all other vendors combined.
  • Only three vendors are in the upper right quadrant (most complete vision, best ability to execute): HP (leader), followed by IBM then Dell.
  • Two vendors (HP and IBM) control 70% of the blade server market.
  • Cisco’s entrance to the market is ‘potentially highly disruptive and represents the transition toward fabric-based technology convergence.’
  • IBM ships more than twice as many blade servers as Dell.
  • IBM saw a sharp reduction in market share in 2007 and 2008 and is focusing on recovery.
  • Survival prospects for Sun blades are ‘good’ but market uncertainty with the Oracle take-over creates doubt.

Bottom line is that the market is highly competitive. Both IBM and Cisco are rapidly advancing towards a converged fabric. HP is the clear leader, but their competition is not sitting idle. In fact, HP is lagging their competition in shipping FCoE enabled products. However, various standards required for FCoE were only recently ratified. I see 2010 as the year that businesses start to seriously look at converged storage and network fabrics. By then all major blade server manufacturers will have FCoE products, including HP.

In short, if you are seriously looking at blade servers then your three best bets today are HP, IBM, and either Cisco or Dell. If I had to bet money, once the economy recovers I would guess Cisco blades will see strong market acceptance. However, they don’t have the decades of server experience that HP and IBM have and rely on partners for a complete solution.

It will be interesting to see the blade server market share and magic quadrant in the second half of 2010. Will HP still be leading? Will Cisco UCS take off or fall flat? Will Sun even be around? How strongly is Dell committed to blades? Let’s check back in a year..all of us may be in for surprise.

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