IBM Expands Blade Capabilities

IBM is bolstering its BladeCenter systems, offering two new switch options and letting users try virtualization technology from VMware.

IBM is expanding the features of its BladeCenter platform, offering two new switch options and bundling VMware Inc.s virtualization technology into the systems.

The moves, which IBM is announcing Wednesday at the Server Blade Summit, in Santa Clara, Calif., are the latest by the Armonk, N.Y., company to grow the capabilities of its blade systems through partnerships and to expand the ways enterprises can deploy them, said Tim Dougherty, director of BladeCenter.

"This is the continued fulfillment of our promise of building the ecosystem [around BladeCenter]," Dougherty said.

By bundling evaluation copies of VMwares technology, users will be able to test virtualization environments on the BladeCenter for six months, he said.

The evaluation copies will include VMwares ESX Server, Virtual SMP—which enables a single virtual machine to span multiple processors—and VirtualCenter with VMotion. VirtualCenter is VMwares server management software; VMotion is for workload management.

The VMware environment not only increases the resource utilization for enterprises, but also expands the management capabilities, Dougherty said.

Brian Byun, vice president of alliances for VMware, said the Palo Alto, Calif., company works with most OEMs in their blade strategies, but IBM is the first to offer evaluation copies to all of its blade customers.

"Over the past couple of years, we have found customers who have been combining the two [virtual machine technology with blades] are finding great synergies," Byun said.

Dean Health System Inc. began experimenting with running virtual machines on BladeCenter systems in October 2003. The result has been a server environment that is more efficient, manageable and cost-effective, officials said.

"The rapid deployment of servers and the ability to allow us to do a lot more both with our production and development environments have helped out a lot," said Carlo Bonura, technical system analyst with the Madison, Wis., company.

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Dean Health currently runs ESX virtual servers on two BladeCenters in its production environment and one in its development area, Bonura said. The combination of the two technologies also will play a role this year as the company enters the next phase of its server consolidation project.

In addition, IBM is adding a SAN (storage area network) switch module co-developed by McData Corp. and QLogic Corp., the first product from a partnership between the two companies that was announced in November 2004.

The embedded SAN switch will ease BladeCenter users connectivity into McData environments. IBM already embeds switches from QLogic and Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Dougherty said. Businesses want choices, he said.

"What weve discovered going in is this is an integrated world, and customers have their chosen standard [technologies]," he said. "They want you to conform to them rather than having to conform to you."

The McData switch will be available in May.

Next month, IBM also will offer the option of a new embedded Ethernet switch from Cisco Systems Inc. The Fiber Intelligent Switch Module will provide ports to users who want fiber Ethernet connectivity in their BladeCenter chassis.

Again, this is a way of broadening user choice, Dougherty said, growing the Cisco options to include fiber as well as copper.

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