Insider: SAN Blades Controversial

Byte and Switch Insider says SAN blades curb density - but some like it that way

September 20, 2005

3 Min Read
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Storage connectivity is key to helping IT managers get the most out of blade servers. But the best way to link to SANs isn't clear.

Lots of organizations are using blade servers to save space and streamline management of data -- but not as many as hype would have it, according to the latest Byte and Switch Insider, this sites paid subscription research service.

The report -- “Blade Servers: Bargain or Bust?” -- says customers are still working out issues of power and cooling. They're often disappointed that blades don't offer dramatic savings over their rackmounted cousins.

Despite this, when blades servers are linked with networked storage, the savings can justify the changeover. As servers multiply, so do the costs and complexity of keeping them attached to a Fibre Channel SAN. Compressing them in blade form can bring savings in the cost of HBAs, the cost of extra cabling, and other elements typically needed to link individual servers to a Fibre Channel SAN.

This adds up. “We figure about 67 percent savings versus connecting rackmount servers to an external SAN,” says Steve Gillaspy, group manager for HP BladeSystem at Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ).HP, Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL), Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), and NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY; Tokyo: 6701) offer SAN fabric switch modules from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), or QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) in their blade servers.

But not everyone thinks switch blades are the best SAN connectivity option. Egenera Inc., which makes the world's densest blade server and doesn't offer a switch module, says adding one would mean trading off on density, something customers like telecom service providers don't want. Spokespeople say Egenera's doing well with integral Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet "passthrough."

Elsewhere, SAN switch maker (Nasdaq: CSCO) has delayed making its SAN switch into a blade, citing lack of a standard interface to blade servers that makes development expensive.

The only effort to unify an approach to blade module design has been launched by IBM. Called, it is still in the planning stages, and given that it probably won't get the support of competing server vendors, it's likely to stay there.

As blade servers ramp, buying trends will clarify. Smaller companies may prefer integral SAN switches, while the likes of service providers eschew them. On the other hand, sufficient momentum may be generated among users to force server builders to look at some form of standardized interface. The growth of IP SANs could muddy the waters further.Whatever happens, it's vital for customers to make their wishes known, the report states. Keeping pace with development in blade servers will keep customers in line with the future of data center design.

Public companies mentioned in this report include: Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD), Brocade, Cisco, Dell, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC), Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX), Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Fujitsu Siemens Computers, Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ), IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM), , McData, Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT), NEC, Qlogic, Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW), and VMware Inc., a division of EMC.

Private companies mentioned in this report include: Cassatt Corp., Egenera, emBoot Inc., PlateSpin, Qlusters Inc., and and Virtual Iron Software Inc.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and SwitchBlade Servers: Bargain or Bust? is available as part of an annual subscription (12 monthly issues) to Byte and Switch Insider, priced at $1,350. Individual reports are available for $900.

To subscribe, or for more information, please visit: request a free executive summary of the report, or for details on multi-user licensing options, please contact:

Jeff Claudino
Sales Manager
Insider Research Services

[email protected]

For review copies, members of the media may contact:

Gabriel Brown
Chief Analyst
Insider Research Services
[email protected]

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