N+I: Web traffic company wants to make 'the BIOS of blades'

If blade servers take off, they will need traffic management software on board. F5 aims to put its software on blades from all the leading players

Blade servers may be about to change the data centre by consolidating applications onto multiple small servers loaded in racks. But this cannot happen without software to manage the traffic flowing between those servers, according to F5, a company which is anticipating deals with HP, Compaq and RLX, the three companies already shipping blades, as well as Fujitsu and Dell, to provide just this sort of software. "Blade servers are a compelling idea. They are designed to scale, and come with hardware replacement. Doing that without traffic management software is like running an airport with no traffic control," said Erik Giesa, director of marketing at F5. Most rack implementations may put the blades into one enclosure, but they still treat the different processors as discrete objects. Without traffic management, requests would be sent to the next available server, without considering if it is overloaded, or whether the traffic has a high priority. The blade servers, which are connected by Ethernet within a chassis, would not be used efficiently. Blade servers are currently suitable for leading-edge users, and will not be found in enterprise IT departments for two years, said Giesa. Today's blades are limited by only having single-processor versions, but in six to 12 months, two-processor blades will be able to more or less everything that conventional servers can, and in one to two years, they will be replacing rack servers. F5's products include Big IP and 3DNS for traffic management, and Edge FX for content management. "Something like Big IP is essential for blade systems," said Giesa. "Vendors will integrate it such that it will not be seen by users." If this happens then there could be an opportunity for a third-party company to provide this software. Users would prefer this, as they will want software that can handle more than one vendor's blade servers (they may mix and match racks from different vendors, even though the blades themselves are proprietary and will only fit in one vendor's chassis.) "The big boys (such as IBM, HP or Sun) could supply this kind of software, but they wouldn't be vendor agnostic," said Giesa. He believes that F5 can get a finger in a large number of blade installations by selling vendor-neutral management software, in much the same way that suppliers other than Intel have dominated the provision of the BIOS (basic input/output system) software that is built into PCs. "F5 is the only Internet traffic vendor to develop for blades," asserted Giesa. The company is the only significant player to remain independent in the field, after Alteon was bought by Nortel and Arrowpoint was bought by Cisco two years ago. Although F5's commitment to blades is big, the company expects business to grow slowly. "Next year, it could be 5 to 10 percent of our revenue," said Giesa.

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