IBM and Symbol Technologies Inc. are teaming up on the first wireless LAN controller blade for IBMs blade server center, according to officials at both companies.
The new blade brings wireless LAN radios and management capabilities to IBMs BladeCenter chassis, officials said. Called the WS5120 Wireless Switch, it is essentially Symbols WS5100 wireless LAN switch in the form of a blade rather than a box. (The WS5100 controls and manages up to 48 of Symbols thin access points from a central location.)
"This begins to cross an interesting line that hasnt really been crossed before," said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing at Gartner Inc., a consultancy in San Jose, Calif. "We typically havent seen a server box deliver networking."
Each BladeCenter chassis can hold up to 14 of the wireless LAN blades, so in theory a chassis could support up to 672 access points.
"Blades in general have been the fastest-growing segment of the server market," said Uday Watwe, program director for xSeries servers and BladeCenter Industry Solutions at IBM, in Somers, N.Y. "We have been getting requests from customers to support not just wired but also wireless infrastructure."
IBMs biggest competitor in the blade server market is Hewlett-Packard Co. and its BladeSystem. HP has no immediate plans for a wireless LAN blade. "Our BladeSystem technology continues to evolve, however, and [we] expect some interesting innovations to come," said Eric Krueger, a spokesman for the Santa Clara, Calif., company.
Cisco Systems Inc. is the market leader for wireless LAN hardware. But while the San Jose, Calif., company makes wireless LAN blades for its own Ethernet switches, "Cisco cant cross the boundary the other way because they dont have servers and storage," Gartners Dulaney said.
Cisco officials declined to comment on whether the company will team up with a server company on a wireless LAN blade, although a spokesman pointed out that Cisco has existing wireless business partnerships with both HP and IBM, most recently in the mesh networking space.
Blade servers house computing power in vertically-stored blades rather than stacked boxes, which makes them popular among space-constrained customers.
The dense form factor allows for more processing power in a smaller footprint, and the fact that they share power and memory means fewer cables and easier manageability.
"Im completely supportive of blade technology as it simplifies the hosting and maintenance of devices," said John Halamka, CIO of Harvard Medical School and Caregroup Health Systems, a Boston-area hospital group.
Blade systems do, however, tend to be more expensive than traditional servers. And because they are housed so close to each other, they can create a lot of heat, which can add to the expense of cooling the data center.
The new wireless LAN blade will start shipping to customers next week, through IBMs Global Services division. Pricing depends on configuration but works on a per-license basis.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include comments from analysts as well as from Hewlett-Packard and Cisco.