IBM Draws Networking Strength

Arthur Cole

HP has networking in-house. Cisco started out with networking and now has its own server line. So if you're IBM at a time when fully integrated data center platforms are all the rage and you've stacked your deck with server and storage technology, how do you reassure customers that you have the network chops they're looking for?

Simple, you bring in the best third-party systems you can find.

Even amid the breakthrough cloud platforms and advanced virtualization technology we're seeing lately, the fact is that data centers will still rely on three pillars of infrastructure: servers, storage and networking. And while most competitors are busy building out their own integrated data centers, IBM has decided to cobble together a wide variety of offerings and let the customer settle on the details.

High-end customers, for example, can take advantage of the new tie-up between the iDataPlex server and a new reference architecture for NextIO's I/O virtualization technology designed for the server's particular GPU-based architecture. The package will allow users to bounce a single iDataPlex off of eight double-wide or 16 single-wide GPUs in a NextIO appliance. With a single rack supporting up to 10 NextIOs, that's 160 GPUs or 80 Tflops of total processing power. The design also provides for modular hot-plug sleds that let you swap out individual processors without taking the whole system down.

And fresh from the decision to incorporate QLogic CNAs into the Power Systems line, IBM has tapped the company again for Quad Data Rate (QDR) InfiniBand support. The company's 7300 Series 40 Gb HCA will be integrated into System x servers, namely the System Cluster 1350 aimed at HPC markets. The 7300 Series provides a whopping 30 million messages per second over a one-way bandwidth of 3400 MBps, with latency that's been measured at 1.0 us point-to-point. QLogic also took QDR design wins from Dell, SGI and HP.

For storage networking, IBM is turning to LSI Corp. for 6 Gbps SAS connectivity. The company's MegaRAID system has just started shipping on the System x 3659 M2 and 3550 servers as part of the units' ServeRAID controller configurations. In lab tests, the combo showed a 190 percent boost in throughput for RAID 5 writes and a 240 percent improvement for RAID 6 writes compared to earlier 3G systems. As part of the ServeRAID system, users gain eight internal 6G SAS ports, plus support for both SAS and SATA drives and LSI's MegaRAID management software for tasks like disk encryption, RAID setup and management and intelligent battery backup.

The main drawback to IBM's strategy is that by turning to third-party suppliers for such a crucial component of its data center platform, it risks losing control of development cycles. That problem is likely to be minimal due to the fact that, well, IBM is not without some clout when it comes to ensuring that its requirements are met.

And even if it does lose a certain amount of product control, it makes up for it with a higher level of flexibility when it comes to meeting the specific needs of its customers. As the great data center reboot gets under way next year, it will be interesting to see whether users prefer that kind of latitude vs. the one-stop-shop approach of Cisco and HP.

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