IBM is looking to increase speed and efficiency in its blade servers by offering, along with a number of partners, a series of networking tools and management technologies.
The Armonk, N.Y., company is calling the new product offerings within its BladeCenter H systems “virtual fabric technology,” which reflects the combination of Ethernet connectivity fabric with the switches and network equipment needed to provide more connectivity and bandwidth within a companys data center.
“This allows us to make good on the promise to our customers that will provide interoperability within the BladeCenter H systems,” said Ishan Sehgal, program director of IBM BladeCenter. “We are providing customers with more high-speed efficiency and more capacity. This will also allow us to build more bandwidth and power into the chassis.”
As part of this new architecture, IBM and Blade Network Technologies, of Santa Clara, Calif., are offering what the two companies called the first 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch for blade servers.
The inclusion of Blade Networks Nortel 10G Ethernet Switch within the BladeCenter H chassis, coupled with the NetXen 10G expansion card, will provide IBMs blade customers with “far superior throughput and latency [to] what anyone else in the industry is offering,” Sehgal said.
Then there is the price, where IBM officials also say the company has a competitive edge. IBM, Sehgal said, will offer the switch at less than $500 per port. (The price for the Blade Network Technologies switch will be officially listed at $9,799 per 20 ports, according to IBM.)
IBM also announced a new partnership that will include networking switches and Fibre Channel products from Cisco Systems and QLogic.
In the highly competitive blade market—which could be worth $10 billion annually by 2009, according to one study by IDC—IBM is continuing to look for ways to separate itself from the competition, including Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Sun Microsystems.
Third-quarter surveys by IDC and Gartner gave IBM the edge with 42.3 percent of the blade market, followed by HP, which claimed 35 percent. To keep that edge, IBM has to prove to customers that its nimble enough to keep up with the demands being placed on blade servers by users.
In one way, the additional technologies that IBM will offer in its BladeCenter H systems are similar to the offerings included in its BladeCenter HT systems, which were introduced on Dec. 4. In that offering were 10G Ethernet switches that were developed by Blade Network Technologies, and the switchers were specifically designed to work with servers that are built to deal with the rugged environments in the telecommunications industry.
The new virtual architecture is also designed for industries that have need for higher bandwidth, such as IPTV and online gaming, while other types of enterprises, such as Wall Street investment firms and businesses that need HPC (high-performance computing), can benefit from consolidating data center infrastructure and reducing power use, the company said. By offering a virtualized networking system to connect one set of blade servers to another, IBM is looking to ease the burden on the data center.
“Some of the biggest issues out there are power, space and cooling,” said Vikram Mehta, president and CEO of Blade Network Technologies. “Its not enough to just eliminate server gear that consumes space and creates heat. There is also networking equipment out there that contributes to this as well.”
In addition to its 10G Ethernet switch, IBM will offer a number of other products for its BladeCenter H series. These include a Cisco embedded 4G Fibre Channel switch, which will allow users to deploy end-to-end SAN (storage area network) services.
Other networking products include QLogic Ethernet and Fibre Channel InfiniBand Bridge modules, which will provide gateway functions for InfiniBand-connected groups of BladeCenter H systems to external Gigabit Ethernet or Fibre Channel networks.
IBM will also offer a new Address Manager that will allow system administrators to use software to assign Ethernet and Fibre Channel port addresses used in the blades, instead of having these addresses burned into the hardware during the manufacturing process.
Finally, IBM will now offer a multiswitch interconnect module that allows users to double the number of Fibre Channel or Gigabit Ethernet connections in each blade.
With the exception of the Address Manager software, all of the products are now available for ordering and will start to ship in either February or March. The NetXen Ethernet Expansion Card has a starting price of $899 for a dual port, the 4G Fibre Channel Switch from Cisco will cost $14,999 per 20 ports and $8,999 for 10 ports, the QLogic Ethernet InfiniBand Bridge starts at $8,149 and the QLogic InfiniBand Fibre Channel Bridge will run $9,799, according to IBM.