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Blades on the cutting edge
Whether it's Dell Inc., HP, IBM or a new challenger in the blade space, Chau has some bad news for vendors. "Frankly, when it comes to shopping for blades, the major vendors don't offer major differentiators," he says. "It all boils down to the relationships you foster." Maybe, but plenty of vendors are trying to convince users otherwise. It seems that no matter where you turn, another vendor is trying to stake a claim in blade territory.

Take Verari Systems Inc., which has a product that supports two quad-core processors (from Intel Corp. or Advanced Micro Devices Inc.) on a single 1U vertical blade and up to 96 blades.

Verari's selling pitch is that the HPs and IBMs of the world are offering relatively low capacity in dense packaging, while it backs up its blade servers with standard-sized motherboards tipped up on their ends and slipped into a proprietary rack that equals the floor space density of an IBM BladeCenter or HP c-Class.

Perhaps what's most interesting about Verari's systems are its SB5165XL StorageServer and disk blades that are essentially used to create NAS and iSCSI SAN appliances within the rack. These can be mixed in with their server blades in the same rack. Verari bills its SB5165XL StorageServer product as the industry's first high-density, blade-based, all-in-one storage appliance.

"[Verari's]

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systems are designed and tailored for the ultra-large environments, people with very large data centers," says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group, Stillwater, MN. "This is what HP had in mind when they said they were going to take their c-Class and attach PolyServe to it. What they're really following is the bulk storage market," he says.

Jim Damoulakis, CTO at Framingham, MA-based GlassHouse Technologies Inc., says many vendors are anticipating the I/O problems users might have when they begin testing the limits of their blade infrastructures. A key development, he says, is that some blades are now shipping with PCI Express ports. "That's high-bandwidth, back-end ports. You can plug in an InfiniBand card and go to a concentrator. Essentially, the software presents virtual NICs and it's InfiniBand on the back end, and Ethernet and Fibre Channel on the front end," he says.

Last month, Verari announced a partnership with Xsigo Systems Inc. to help make it easier to virtualize I/O between blade servers and storage. The partnership is designed to let customers reduce the number of storage and network connections, and make it simpler to manage the rising number of virtual servers connected to networks and storage.

When talking about blade centers, many industry analysts agree, it's the connectivity issues that have users looking to vendors for help. That's what blade switch specialist Blade Network Technologies Inc. and 10Gig Ethernet vendor NetXen Inc. were anticipating last year when they announced what they called "the industry's first solution offering 10Gb connectivity for blade servers." In April, Blade Network Technologies announced its new RackSwitch. The devices are 1U 1Gb and 10Gb Ethernet switches the company says will manage network connectivity for server blades for competing vendors.

This was first published in July 2008

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