IBM Bolsters 4-Gbit/s Blades

IBM is first blade server HBA for McData's 4-Gbit/s switch blade, but HP will follow shortly

September 29, 2005

2 Min Read
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IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) has unveiled gear that enables its blade servers to link directly to a 4-Gbit/s switch inside the same chassis.

IBM is offering a 4-Gbit/s HBA from QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) for use with IBM's BladeCenter servers. The adapter will link the servers directly to a choice of two distinct 4-Gbit/s switches in IBM's BladeCenter chassis, one from McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA) and one from Qlogic. In turn, the switches support 4-Gbit/s uplinks to a SAN -- in IBM's case, its TotalStorage DS4800 array.

The key here is the HBA, which lets the BladeCenter servers interact with the SAN directly, via the switch module inside the chassis, instead of going to external servers.

IBM's new embedded switches both come in 10- and 20-port models. Both are based on the same Qlogic hardware. But the switches differ in their software capabilities. McData, for instance, offers extra security via its SANtegrity package.

What will drive customers to pick one over the other? They'll choose according to the hardware they already have installed, says Tim Dougherty, IBM's director of BladeCenter strategy. For users that don't have McData or Qlogic gear already installed, he acknowledges that Qlogic's switch is being sold as a cheaper, no-frills solution starting at $9,000. McData's starts at $11,000. The Qlogic HBA costs $800.On the downside, the McData and Qlogic switches and HBA IBM is offering don't share a fully integrated common management interface. IBM's BladeCenter management product, the IBM Director, is capable of configuring the new blades and tracking their status. "We do hardware management predominantly," Dougherty says. Deeper, software-level integration with functions besides configuration and device tracking is still something that will evolve over time, he says.

IBM may be the first blade server vendor to offer a 4-Gbit/s HBA for chassis servers. But Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) isn't far behind. That vendor also offers McData's 4-Gbit/s switch in a smaller, 2-external-port version for its BladeSystem chassis (cost: $10,000). HP will probably be releasing a bladeable 4-Gbit/s HBA shortly as well, says an industry source familiar with the matter, who does not work for IBM or HP and asked to remain anonymous.

Today, however, HP wasn't keen on pushing McData, as it announced the release of 4-Gbit/s external switches, director, and HBAs, in part OEM'd from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD). (See HP Selects Brocade .)

All these developments beg the question of whether users really need 4-Gbit/s. According to IBM's Dougherty, the honest answer is an understated "not always." The key is in the price. In Dougherty's view, if users can have double the bandwidth at close to the same price, they'll simply see no reason not to buy it.

For now, IBM's starting prices for 4-Gbit/s are at least close. IBM's 2-Gbit/s McData switch with 20 ports starts at $14,500. Its new 4-Gbit/s switch with 20 ports, at $16,000.Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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