IBM servers to house third-party blades

Nortel will make special purpose network blades to fit IBM's BladeCenter architecture. This is the biggest step so far towards multi-vendor blade systems

Nortel Networks will make specialised networking devices to fit into IBM's BladeCenter. These blades, built to fit the slots in the IBM chassis will be the first third-party blades for IBM's system, and will include LAN switches with traffic management. The companies have not announced delivery dates, so it is not clear whether these will be the first LAN switches for blade architectures, or whether HP, Dell or Sun will be beat IBM to the punch. However, along with the announcement of blades based on IBM's Power processor architecture, it represents a step towards IBM's effort to provide a company's whole datacentre needs within the chassis. "Our blade specification is an open industry standard," said Tikiri Wanduragula, IBM senior eServer consultant. "Other vendors are not licensing their designs. We will have fireall blades from Nortel and plan to have NAS blades." The company's Intel (xServer) division is selling a "blade-and-brick" combination, in which both blades and self-contained x440 servers fit in the same chassis. This will be sold primarily for consolidation, in which multiple servers are replaced by a single chassis, saving power, floorspace and administration. The combination will be more economic than current rack-based servers, says IBM. "The blade/brick combination covers 80 to 90 percent of company's Wintel/Lintel server requirements," said Wanduragula. "The game is changing. Last year, racks overtook tower systems. They have struggled to the top of the heap and then they will get clobbered." "We have a consolidation strategy, and blades give us an advantage" said Robin Porter IBM business manager at Repton, a reseller that also handles HP equipment. "We sell Linux proactively, and VMWare to virtualise systems." Repton has sold around 31 x440 systems, all but two of which have been for consolidation projects. Consolidation sales are based on saving money for users. Putting servers into one rack, with management through IBM's Director products, reduces the floorspace (and possibly chargers for rented space), power requirements, and management overhead of servers. Blades and bricks will continue to co-exist for some time, said Wanduragula, since they have different specifications. IBM's x440 servers include fast interconnect chips from the company's Sequent acquisition, which allow them to be attached together to make very large single systems. These interconnects are too expensive to put on blades, which must be built to a lower cost. So blades are connected by cheaper Gigabit Ethernet, and will be used as single systems. "Bricks are expensive and have fast connections, and blades are lower cost, with slower links," he said. "We can't bring the [Sequent] EXA chip down to an Ethernet price point. For the foreseeable future the technologies will remain distinct." Other BladeCenter partners include Cisco, Microsoft, Citrix,Nokia, BroadCom, and F5, so more third party blades are in the pipeline, said Wandaragula.

For a weekly round-up of the enterprise IT news, sign up for the Enterpise newsletter. Tell us what you think in the Enterprise Mailroom.