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HP keeps its Linux edge with BladeSystem

As HP's reign atop the Linux server heap continues, one company exec explains how its BladeSystem and Linux can keep it competitive with IBM in the blade server space.

Doug Small, the director of open source and Linux strategy at Hewlett-Packard Co., recently sat down with to chat about the impact of Linux and open source software on the blade server market. According to research company IDC, HP is the #1 Linux server vendor. In what areas are you seeing this growth?

Doug Small: Hewlett-Packard has really had the lead in that market since IDC began to look at server numbers. It's been about nine consecutive years now, with today showing about $7.8 billion in revenue worldwide. HP has about 30% of the installed base, followed by Dell with 20% and IBM at 17%. In Q1 of 2006, HP finally drew even with IBM in blade sales. The Linux blade subset has been quite good as well for HP, and in the past year we gained 14% in revenue. Going forward from this point it is really going to be us and IBM in this market.

When you look at Linux on the high end, on the mainframe, Linux is on 20% or so of the servers going out the door today. Yet when you look to the blade server, [Linux] is half the market at roughly 40% to 50%. There is just this affinity for Linux and the blade together in a lot of high-performance computing [HPC] environments.

What kinds of customers are driving this increase in blades?

Small: These are very sophisticated customers, with homegrown software, who have deployed those applications on massive scale-out environments. The economies of Linux and its ability as an operating system to be easily manipulated are reasons for this trend, and it's why approximately 50% of all HPC business is on Linux. Also, with scale-out deployments that are not HPC, like Facebook and YouTube, those tend to be deployed by sophisticated users with homegrown applications who do not want everything contained on a single piece of architecture.

For more on Linux and blades:
Linux on 64-bit blades: Choosing the right servers and distributions

When, why to consider Linux on 64-bit blades

IDC's numbers show you drawing even with IBM in blade sales. How are you going to keep that edge?

Small: With our C-class blade products, we are seeing a majority of the customer demand. On the Linux side, we've remained the No. 1 Linux partner for the major distributions in Red Hat and Novell, but we also now feature Debian as well.

Why Debian?

Small: Last fall we introduced support for Debian because we had started to see a lot of deployments on that OS. With Debian support, we've picked up several large enterprise customers outside of North America, especially in Germany. It's a sleeper operating system, and no one has been tracking it like they track Red Hat and Novell. It's just not as visible. But a wide array of customers all across the world have been deploying on it. We are trying to tap into that and we're pretty bullish on our chances.

What about lock-in concerns in regard to the physical blade architecture?

Small: That's not something I've seen. I think that just like with Linux over the past few years, the blade will find its place as well. That's not to say the blade will replace all servers, but it will have a certain value for customers in terms of space, power and cooling.

How will your Linux server strategy change as virtualization continues to take hold in 2007?

Small: We are trying to build a platform to be on top for virtual deployment in an OS-agnostic way. It won't matter if it's Windows or VMware or Xen. We are making sure Linux is supported, sure, but it will be an agnostic approach. We do think virtualization will have very significant impact on the market in terms of server utilization.

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