ServersVirtually Speaking: Blades Making the Cut

Virtually Speaking: Blades Making the Cut

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Amy Newman

Not only are blade servers and virtualization technology going mainstream at about the same time, they are doing so hand-in-hand. If don’t believe it, just ask HP and Egenera.

Blade Everything.

The HP agenda surfaced several years ago, and it continues unabated. In some respects, 2006 was the turning point for blades. Recent forecasts from Gartner indicate that about 20 percent of servers that ship in 2011 will be in a blade form-factor — the current estimate for blade sales is 10 percent. Not bad for a technology that’s only about six years old.

While it’s doubtful blades will dominate the enterprise landscape, there’s no denying that they are mainstream. Just as virtualization has entered the server mainstream.

And, interestingly enough, blades are now being perceived as complementary to virtualization.

Just ask HP or Egenera.

According to Nick van der Zweep, HP’s director of virtualization & Integrity server software, in Blade System, virtualization is tied directly into the hardware. It’s easy to move an application from one blade to another and move the IP address with it.

This week, HP tied the virtual blade knot a little tighter when it announced on Tuesday that the Virtual Connect Ethernet and Fibre Channel modules were shipping. HP did deliver a bit later than intended on a feature promised in June 2006 when it unveiled its c-Class BladeSystem.

The HP Virtual Connect Ethernet is priced at $5,699, and the Fibre Channel modules is priced at $9,499.

In a nutshell, the new HP Virtual Connect modules run Ethernet and Fibre Channel natively, “instead od using switches and interconnects,” Bill Dickie, HP BladeSystem Interconnect Strategy Manager told ServerWatch.

With the new modules, administrators wire once and then add, replace or recover servers only when needed.

This is because to the SAN, the Virtual Connect Fibre Channel Module looks like a pass-through device. It delivers all the key benefits of integrated switching, including high-performance 4Gb auto-negotiating ports, and compatibility with multiple brands of SAN switches.

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HP claims the Virtual Connect modules can reduce total LAN and SAN connectivity costs by up to 38 percent and can consolidate cables and switch ports by up to 94 percent.

Dickie notes that the reduction in cabling and lack of additional switches also reduces management complexity.

HP says its Virtual Connect makes it easier to pre-provision servers, LAN and SAN infrastructures; recover or replace failed servers; deploy, move or migrate servers; switch between development, test and production networks; service remote sites and service remote sites.

Thus far, HP says it has been pleased with the response. According to Dickie, “This is the largest beta program we’ve ever run, and we still had to turn people away.”

He attributes much of the interest to the fact that, “none of the volume blade vendors have anything similar.”

Nevertheless, the technology may not be as unique as HP hopes.

Egenera’s BladeFrame offering is of a similar ilk. Although its BladeFrame offering lacks the muscle behind it that BladeSystem can flex, Egenera’s Processing Area Network (PAN) architecture, which powers the BladeFrame system is ostensibly a virtualized infrastructure. PAN uses a software-based architecture similar to a SAN. It combines diskless, stateless Egenera Processing Blade modules with software to create a blade-based virtualized software infrastructure.

Egenera’s entire business is based on the blade-virtualization see-saw of the two nascent technologies converging. The fact that one of the largest blade vendors out there with a similar offering gives credence to its strategy. Now Egenera just needs to continue growing its market presence.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been following the virtualization space since 2001.

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