IBM, Brocade Tie SAN Knot

Analysts says new deal could be crucial in IBM's blade battle with HP

May 12, 2004

3 Min Read
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LAS VEGAS -- Networld+Interop -- IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)announced today at Networld+Interop that it will be offering a special version of Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) SAN switches for its blade servers, as was first revealed in this space last week (see Brocade, IBM Could Cross Blades).

After a year of development work, Brocade will be rolling out two SAN switches designed specifically for IBMs BladeCenter range of servers.

Analysts say that teaming up with established SAN vendor Brocade will help IBM differentiate its blade server offering from that of Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), its closest rival in the space.

“HP has its own integrated Fibre Channel and network switches, but they don’t have a specific SAN switch from a third-party vendor like Brocade," says Sarang Ghatpande, lead analyst at DH Brown Associates Inc.

”This will put IBM ahead of blade server players like HP, because they have now got two major networking and storage vendors on their side.”There's also a competitive twist. The move comes hot on the heels of IBM’s recent alliance with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which sees the networking firm providing an Ethernet switch for IBM’s blade servers (see Cisco Goes On-Demand With IBM and Cisco, IBM Go for Data Centers). Cisco has been moving more deeply into the SAN market and competing with Brocade.

Both Cisco and Brocade have large installed bases, which means that many enterprise customers are already familiar with their technology. This obviously made them favorable candidates for partnership for IBM.

James Opfer, research vice president at analyst firm Gartner Inc. believes the deal removes an element of uncertainty for existing users of Brocade products. “This means that they can attach blade servers onto Brocade switches without reducing the functionality of the existing SAN,” he says,

Originally code-named "Blazer," the Brocade Entry SAN Switch Module is aimed at the SMB (small-to-medium business) market, and the Enterprise Switch Module is aimed at larger firms. The new 16-port switches, which plug into the midplane chassis housing the blades, can help keep data center footprints to a minimum, according to IBM execs.

Jeff Benck, vice president, IBM eServer BladeCenter, believes that the integrated blade server chassis and SAN switch could save up to 30 percent in power consumption.We ran this by an enterprise user lurking around the IBM booth at the Las Vegas conference.

The delegate, who asked not to be named, agreed that the savings cited by IBM were possible. He adds, “Having a SAN switch on your blade server will make it easier to do backups.”

So, what’s next in the blade space for IBM? InfiniBand, it would appear. Although unwilling to provide precise details, Benck says, “Later this year you will see us talking about that a lot more.”

He also confirms that IBM will be adding 10-Gigabit Ethernet uplinks to its BladeCenter range next year.

HP did not respond to requests for comment on this article.— James Rogers, Site Editor, Next-gen Data Center Forum

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