The growth of the Internet has triggered an explosion in demand for front-end servers demanding more space and power. The result will be a huge boost in demand for the new generation of slim, low-cost blade servers, according to analysts. Forecasts from research firms indicate the blade-server market will be the only bright spot in an otherwise depressed server market. However, projections vary widely. Gartner Dataquest expects global blade-server shipments to grow from 84,810 units this year to more than a million a year by 2006. International Data Corp (IDC) expects the sector to blossom in an otherwise grim market, saying about two million blade servers will be shipped in 2005, with revenue of about US$2.9 billion. While that is only about 10 per cent of the market for servers costing less than US$100,000, it is rapid growth for a segment IDC does not expect to really take off until next year. A blade server is a server contained on a card. Rather than installing servers one chassis at a time into a rack cabinet as is most common, with blade servers network administrators can install a server card into a multi-slotted chassis. These new servers-on-a-board can then be stacked in a chassis and easily managed. As businesses can add dozens of blades to a single chassis, they can cram more computing power into smaller spaces, cutting data-centre costs. Compaq Computer launched its first blade servers - the ProLiant BL e-Class - in Singapore yesterday. The company also announced that international coffee chain Starbucks had bought some of its new blades. QuickBlade, Compaq's eagerly awaited, high-density server sporting Intel's Tualatin chip - an ultra-low-voltage processor - is expected later this year. These slim systems have their limitations, including lack of compatibility between blade vendors, meaning early adopters risk finding themselves locked into proprietary systems. Hewlett-Packard (HP) is trying to rally support for its HP Blade Server Alliance Programme, which has more than 100 partners including Intel, Oracle, Microsoft and Novell. The company yesterday announced a specification for blade servers called OpenBlade, which officials said was designed to drive the development of standards-based blade-server architectures and provide customers with interoperable products. HP's OpenBlade specification works with the CompactPCI standard, widely used in the telecommunications industry. Jeffrey Hewitt, an analyst with Gartner Dataquest, said: 'A lack of standards will be a primary market inhibitor as many end-users will be reluctant to install a blade server that appears to be proprietary. 'This restriction on blade-server demand will encourage the development of a standard designed specifically for blade servers to which the worldwide server vendors adhere.' The Gartner Dataquest report recommends that until a standard is developed and met, vendors should offer a product line to prevent being 'locked out' of sales that require blade products. Working with smaller blade vendors or using existing development would be the most efficient way to enter the market, Mr Hewitt said. IBM resells blade servers for RLX Technologies, a small United States-based vendor that uses the Transmeta Crusoe processor. Transmeta chips consume less energy than standard Intel processors and generate less heat, allowing more servers to be crammed into a rack. However, RLX's ambition in the Crusoe blade business has hit several bumps. Demand from its target customers, Web-hosting companies, dried up as many of them drastically cut back on investment or closed down. Two other Crusoe server start-ups in the US, FiberCycle Networks and Rebel.com, shut down in September. The Crusoe server start-ups are being crushed by powerful operators such as Compaq, HP, Dell and IBM. The computer giants began promoting blade-server projects after FiberCycle and Rebel.com released their business plans early last year. Understandably, enterprises would rather buy from large companies than small start-ups with an uncertain future. Intel also announced an effort to produce energy-efficient components, denting the appeal of Transmeta-based products. Apart from Compaq, HP is the only company to have launched blade servers. It has the HP Blade Server bc100, which uses the Intel Pentium III chip and 440GX chipset and runs the Linux operating system. Windows and Unix support will be available later in the year. IBM is adopting a more conservative stance and will forego the first generation of Intel-based blade servers in favour of more robust future offerings when a standard emerges. IBM's line of the new server models, codenamed Xcalibur, is expected to be launched later next year.