US Blade Pioneer Chris Hipp Dies Age 49


Chris Hipp, “the father of blade technology” and a founder of RLX Technologies, apparently died of a heart attack on 14 July

Chris Hipp, one of the founders of RLX Technologies and a pioneer in blade system technology, died of an apparent heart attack July 14 at the age of 49.

Details of Hipp’s death are sketchy, though the Blade System Alliance, of which he was a technology chair and an adviser, had this brief note on its Web page:

“Today we lost a good friend and the true founder of the Blade Server Industry, Chris Hipp. Chris has always been an innovator and profound technologist, providing direction and insight to the industry and especially this association. Chris passed away after suffering a heart attack. He will be sorely missed.”

News of his death also was circulating throughout the competitive cycling community. Hipp was an avid racer who had ridden with Lance Armstrong.

However, in the technology world, Hipp will always be linked to blade servers.

On his Website, Hipp had written about the state of data centres in the late 1990s, and the frustration among IT administrators over the issues associated with deploying large numbers of 1U (1.75-inch) “pizza box” rack servers.

“It was then that I realised that there was a market for a more efficient hardware/software platform and better tools for managing them,” Hipp wrote on the site. “It was amazing that data centres could operate with such wasteful power consumption, horrendous cooling and cabling, and lack of reliability. The deployment and management of these servers was becoming a headache of catastrophic proportion. What had happened was that while tier one vendors were busy one-upping each other by cramming hotter CPUs into smaller and smaller sheet metal boxes, they completely forgot about efficiency! It was obvious to me that making servers smaller, while simultaneously increasing CPU megahertz and thermal output, was not a sustainable trend. There had to be a better way.”

RLX came onto the scene in 2001 when it introduced its low-powered blade servers, which could put 336 processors into a standard 42U (73.5-inch) rack. The blades were powered by Transmeta’s low-power Crusoe chips.

RLX officials, including Hipp, argued that blade servers, which share such resources as networking and power, were a good alternative to traditional 1U (1.75-inch) and 2U (3.5-inch) “pizza box” rack-mount systems, particularly in dense data center environments for hosting companies and co-location centers.

“He was the father of blade technology when he was with RLX,” Jim Hall, president of the Blade System Alliance, said in an interview. “He invented the blade server.”

Initially RLX was hampered by a number of factors, including questions surrounding its choice of chips from Transmeta, another relatively new vendor, and the dot-com collapse that rapidly shrunk IT budgets.

However, both RLX and Transmeta began to influence the industry. Server OEMs eventually began adopting bladed form factors, and established chip makers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices soon were producing their own low-power chips.

Less than a decade later, both companies are gone—RLX was bought by Hewlett-Packard in 2005, particularly for its Control Tower management software, and Transmeta went out of business last year—but their influence can be seen throughout the industry. Essentially every systems OEM offers blade servers, and HP officials are aggressively expanding the blade form factor throughout the company’s product portfolio.

RLX had eventually adopted Intel processors for its blades, but in 2004 the company had dropped its hardware business to focus on its software offerings, in particular its Blade Tower management solution. Hipp had left RLX before HP bought the company.

Hall, who said he and Hipp had worked closely together at the Blade System Alliance since August 2006, said Hipp had continued his interest in startup technologies after leaving RLX.

He worked with a number of companies that were trying to get started through a business incubator in the San Jose, Calif., area, Hall said.

“He had a huge reputation as a go-to guy for these companies trying to come out of the incubator,” Hall said.

He also was working with others in the alliance to improve blade technology. Hall said he and Hipp were close to publishing a whitepaper on the use of SSDs (solid-state drives) in blade servers. Blades use traditional disks, which take up a lot of room, Hall said.

Solid-state technologies were seen as expensive and unreliable, but had improved in recent years, to the point where Hipp and others saw the benefit of using them in blade servers.

Some OEMs have been pushing the use of SSDs in their systems. Sun Microsystems officials last year said they were going to put SSDs throughout their hardware line.

Hall said Hipp was a natural inventor who wanted to be on the cutting edge.“He always wanted to be in that accelerated gear, taking technology and making it better than it always had been,” Hall said.

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