The agreement gives Rackable a wider selection of hardware to offer customers and will help it to expand sales of ICE Cube beyond Internet companies, where it is strong today, and into the broader enterprise market, said Tony Carrozza, Rackable senior vice president of worldwide sales and marketing.
IBM's BladeCenter T and HT systems have the type of redundancy, performance and management features that enterprise customers want, he said. IBM's blades are also NEBS-3- and ETSI-compliant, which means they are certified for use by telecommunications companies.
ICE Cube is one of a new class of products that puts servers and storage gear into a customized 20- or 40-foot shipping container that can be delivered worldwide at fairly short notice. They can be used to add computing power at data centers that are reaching their limit for power and cooling supplies, or be used out in the field by the military, for example.
It's hard to gauge demand for the products because no vendors have disclosed sales figures for them yet. But the fact that several companies have invested in their development, including Sun Microsystems, Rackable, IBM and Hewlett-Packard, shows that the industry sees potential, according to Carrozza.
Microsoft is a big believer. It is putting more than 200 modular data centers in a new facility it is building in Chicago to support online services. It says the enclosed containers allow for highly efficient energy management.
Besides the IBM blades, Rackable offers its own 2U rack-mount servers for ICE Cube, though it says customers can choose pretty much any gear that will fit.
Rackable could have sold IBM blades in its containers before, but it would have done so without IBM's technical support, and it may have had to buy the blades through a distributor, which would have been more expensive, Carrozza said. It has not sold any IBM blade servers in the past, he said.
The deal is nonexclusive, so Rackable could potentially offer blades from other vendors in the future.
Rackable offers its own take on blade servers, but they are "hybrid" products rather than blades in the true sense, he said. "You don't have the network fabric inside the chassis, the management capabilities or the resiliency and redundancy that you have inside a BladeCenter," Carrozza said.
IBM's own modular data center competes with ICE Cube, but IBM should still benefit from the deal by selling more of its blades, said Dan Olds, principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group in Beaverton, Oregon.
For Rackable, the access to IBM's technology helps it to secure its place in the modular data center market at a time when vendors with bigger R&D budgets are flocking to the space.
"It helps Rackable to avoid becoming a casualty as the technology advances," Olds said.