One of the current buzzwords of the server world is “consolidation.” Depending on who you talk to, this means anything from using really big servers running virtualization software (such as VMware) pretending to be lots of smaller servers, to lots of smaller servers packed into small spaces (blade servers, et al.) that can be used to virtualize all sorts of environments that go across hardware boundaries.
Obviously, this difference also represents the difference between the utility computing model and the traditional approach to providing server resources. While there are some situations where the models are in direct competition, they are, for the most part, complementary technologies. Utility computing isnt for everyone, nor are huge monolithic servers; the goal is to meet the business needs of the computing environment in the most efficient manner, regardless of technology.
Theres an interesting transition taking place on the blade server side of the market, though its not an unexpected one. Since one of the primary features of the blade server concept is flexibility, it shouldnt come as a surprise that more and more high-end networking and storage features are beginning to be integrated into the blade server model.
Networking was the first technology to be integrated. Since you already had to deal with the issue of building a network within the blade server enclosure to permit communication with the independent server blades, it was only natural that high-performance networking technologies should be incorporated. Gigabit Ethernet connections were just the first step, as vendors are starting to announce 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches offered as blades for their server enclosures. So with the addition of port connections, you are now able to buy blade servers that include the core architecture of your high-performance switched Gigabit Ethernet network.
Support for Storage Networks
Once youve got the networking components in place, the next logical step is to offer NAS (network-attached storage) or SAN (storage area network) support. IBM and Hewlett-Packard, for example, have been offering blade server products with direct support for both NAS and SAN technologies. HP is taking that even further, with an announcement made last week that it is partnering with Brocade Communication Systems to fully integrate the Brocade SAN switching capability into the HP line of blade servers.
By embedding the Brocade 4GB switch module into the HP blade server, HP hopes to offer a simplified storage networking infrastructure that will also be manageable within the construct of the blade server management environment, resulting in additional cost savings, both in implementation and ongoing expense, to HP blade server and storage networking customers.
Lest you think that this is a shot in the dark from HP, consider this: Last month EMC hired a new chief technology officer, Jeff Nick. Nicks immediate background was that of the chief architect of IBMs very successful grid computing initiative, in the role of CTO and senior vice president. With EMC looking to expand its presence in the utility computing market, the decision to place a proven grid performer in the role of CTO gives you a good idea of how serious (and concerned) EMC is about this market space.
These are just some of the big names that are working toward building this integration into the blade server market. Im sure that there are many vendors working under the radar that arent quite ready to make public announcements about their integration plans. Personally, Im looking forward to the dedicated edge hardware appliance vendors (firewall, e-mail, anti-virus, content management, etc.) making their offerings available as blades from the server vendors. This will be a big step in making the management and consolidation of entire network infrastructures into a single rack package pretty close to a reality, with the customer able to pick from a Chinese menu of choices that they can be assured will work together.