Blades and the Unified Fabric


Converging your enterprise network(s) onto a single platform may seem like a no-brainer. After all, who wouldn't want to manage and maintain a single network rather than separate data, storage and even voice architectures?


But beyond the major question of which format to build on, there are a number of other aspects to take into consideration, such as what sort of server architecture will best fit into this unified environment.


Organizations backing blade servers have made no secret of their intention to promote their technology as the ideal solution. Besides their ability to aggregate network ports, the newest blade architectures will be equipped to handle all of the single-wire formats under consideration: 10 GbE, FCoE, iSCSI and Infiniband.


The Blade.org group, consisting of BLADE Network Technologies, Brocade, Emulex, IBM, Mellanox and other vendors, just released a white paper entitled "Blade Platforms and Network Convergence" highlighting all the benefits of convergence around the blade, including the scrapping of multiple adapters and switch ports and the ability to institute dynamic allocation of end-to-end resources. You can download it here.


Anything is better than the hodgepodge of hardware and software that currently makes up the data center, according to IDC's Richard Villars. He tells ServerWatch that the continued practice of adding servers wherever they happen to fit in the racks and then linking it all to storage somewhere else is unsustainable. There may be differences in the way vendors are building their unified platforms, but they should all provide significant improvements in network simplicity.


Cisco may be going one better by bringing in its own blade design. The company is rumored to be working on an Intel-based device code-named the "California Server" with plans to link it closely to the Nexus switch. The company has not commented on the story yet, but it would seem to make a lot of sense for Cisco to use its considerable resources to devise a blade to go with its network technology, even if it does cross swords with some of the company's major partners like HP and IBM.


Blades, of course, have the advantage of providing high-density environments in an industry that is usually cramped for space to begin with. But they by no means have a lock on that feature. Processor points out in this editorial that some of the new 1-inch chassis are starting to push back by incorporating multiple quad-core CPUs, RAM sockets and drive bays.


More than likely, though, blades and standard servers will play leapfrog for a considerable period as the unified network concept spreads out across the industry. But no matter which platform is adopted (and indeed, why not both?) the goal is to provide a flexible, virtual environment for users-two primary ingredients for the cloud.