Blade Networking's New Cutting Edge

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The blade server has been a boon to small and medium-sized businesses -- and a fair number of larger ones as well. But while blades offer convenience and an attractive price point, they also increase the need for advanced networking, sometimes beyond the level that most small firms are comfortable with.


Multiple racks of humming blades invariably lead to decisions about storage networking. As throughput increases to the 8-10 Gbps level, the cost differential between Ethernet and Fibre Channel starts to tighten, so adding SAN technology is no longer a simple matter of adding more Ethernet cards into the mix.


QLogic, for one, is aiming squarely at the small enterprise with its new 9008V 8 Gbps Fibre Channel I/O blade designed for the SANbox 9000 switch. Company execs say they will forego the full SAN director market by configuring the SANbox only up to 256 ports, which should be plenty for a medium-sized fabric. The 9008V itself offers 16 8-Gb ports and provides backward compatibility with legacy 4-Gb and 2-Gb networks.


Ethernet providers are also keeping an eye on maintaining legacy networks. Blade Network Technologies recently unveiled what it calls a hybrid 1/10 GbE uplink switch for the IBM BladeCenter portfolio, a device that the company says provides double the bandwidth at half the cost and half the energy consumption. The switch offers simultaneous use of six 1-Gb copper and three 10-GbE SPF+ uplinks and provides Layer 2/3 support for features like Open Shortest Path First (OSPF) and Border Gateway Protocol.


HP users have access to a new ProCurve Ethernet switch designed for large file transfers and high-bandwidth applications like graphics, video and backup and storage operations. The ProCurve 2510G series consists of 24- and 48-port 10/100/1000 switches, each with SFP transceiver slots designed for Gigabit and Fast Ethernet operation. The ProCurve management interface is designed for non-specialized IT staff and is available either as a Web-based system, a full-featured console or a centralized management option.


Meanwhile, new blade management systems are making it easier to set up LAN and SAN technologies. HP got the ball rolling with Virtual Connect, and now Dell has joined the race with the FlexAddress system for the M-Series blades. FlexAddress can tie the blade chassis directly to both the Fibre Channel World Wide Name (WWN) and Ethernet/iSCSI Media Access Control (MAC) formats. By dumping the traditional method of connecting directly to the blade hardware, the system aims to simplify I/O management through centralization, improved addressing and hot-swap capabilities for blade hardware.


Blade technology is a perfect example of the IT gods giveth(ing?) and the IT gods takething away. But the increased networking requirement of blades actually helps to propel small enterprises into a more efficient and effective data environment -- one that has the ability to expand as business does.