IBM, Intel Open BladeCenter Switch


When the going gets tough, the tough...? Open up their technology, apparently.


How else to explain IBM and Intel's sudden decision to release the switch module specifications on the BladeServer line?


The companies decided to release the platform under the auspices of the Server System Infrastructure Forum, an industry group founded by Intel aimed at defining server standards. Now, any third-party provider, network hardware vendors mainly, can build compatible BladeServer components without having to license the technology directly from Intel.


The move eliminates a rather odd situation in that SSI members already had access to the entire BladeCenter specification, except the switch module, which is likely the main reason you don't see too many non-IBM or Intel-brand blades in the BladeCenter chassis.


According to The Register (I'm growing quite fond of The Register -- they have a lot of institutional knowledge that they use to explain why things are the way they are), the delay in releasing the switch spec was likely made in response to the success of the HP c-Class blade. Back when IBM ruled the blade market, opening the BladeCenter was seen as the best way to establish it as an industry standard. Once the c-Class started to gain marketshare, IBM apparently took a moment to rethink its commitment to open systems, but in the end decided to move ahead anyway.


Another key part of the equation is the fact that IBM is already pushing its switch technology to another level, giving itself a leg up while third parties wrestle with the basic system. The company recently introduced a new switch module for the BladeCenter S that allows you to convert a direct attached storage (DAS) system into a full storage area network (SAN). Technically, this is only a minor shift, but it has huge implications for small businesses looking to virtualize. Without it, enterprises will have trouble running some of the newest virtualization features, such as VMware's VMotion data migration tool.


Late last year, the industry was buzzing about a possible universal blade chassis format that would accommodate servers from IBM, HP, Sun, Dell and the rest of the blade community. That effort appears to have gone nowhere. So for now, it looks like we'll have to make due with the openness afforded by the top chassis manufacturers. It's not the worst of all worlds, but it's not the best either.