As Britain plunges into negative growth for the first time in 16 years, it might be encouraging to know that some markets are still growing at a reasonable clip. One such sector is blade servers where Gartner analysts predict a compound annual growth rate of about 19 per cent between 2007 and 2012. That means that percentage share of blade shipments will rise from 10 per cent of all servers last year to 20 per cent in that period.

The attraction of blades is not hard to spot and can be boiled down to the aphorism describing the supermodel industry of the 1990s: 'thin is in'. As firms have demanded their datacentre managers deliver greater numbers of bits, bytes and storage, server room space has become very tough to find. Blades take up little space and allow processing (and, increasingly, other tasks) to be added in an incremental way without breaking the bank.

When they first appeared early in this decade, it was assumed that blades would quickly become a large part of server infrastructure but sales have actually not been as rapid as some projected and the market has been dominated by HP and, to a lesser extent, IBM. That sluggish growth is largely because of two reasons: the proprietary approaches of vendors that made it difficult to mix and match blades from different brands, and the fact that when companies went full-on for blades without appropriate planning, the resulting density led to the risk of overheating and spikes in power consumption.

Still, today there are good reasons for backing Gartner's contention that there will be rapid growth in the next few years. First, blades are far more of a known commodity than was the case even a few years ago. Second, the uber-trend towards virtualisation will push blade sales as the two technologies complement each other nicely for firms seeking greater resource flexibility and failover assurance. Third, there is some evidence that vendors are edging towards standardisation, for example through management software and I/O and storage interconnects.