IBM said Tuesday that Brocade Communications Systems will soon begin offering two Fibre Channel switches--one for small businesses and another for large companies--that fit into IBM server enclosures. The move will give Big Blue's blade servers another way to access storage area networks (SANs), the special-purpose networks that connect to centralized storage systems.
The company already offers a SAN switch from Brocade competitor QLogic. And for connecting to conventional computer networks, IBM has deals with Cisco Systems and Nortel Networks.
While blade servers are often used for simpler jobs, such as Web hosting, adding better networking options furthers Big Blue's plans for the devices, which includes an expanded role handling higher-end computing tasks, such as housing databases.
IBM believes servers are headed in two basic directions: one dominated by large machines that are packed with dozens of processors, and another where large numbers of thin blade servers will proliferate. In both cases, IBM expects servers to fluidly adapt to changing workloads.
Blade servers are compact enough to fit like books into a bookshelf, sharing resources such as external network connections and power supplies. Server makers such as Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Sun Microsystems all contend that blade servers are easier to manage than conventional machines.
IBM sells a, including its eServer HS20 with two Intel Xeon chips, its HS40 with four Xeons, and its JS20, which includes two of IBM's own PowerPC 970 processors. Connecting the servers to SANs will give customers more flexibility in the way they use the machines, IBM said.
"With this announcement, BladeCenter now incorporates advanced Brocade Fibre Channel switching capability that will let customers integrate our blade solution seamlessly into their existing data center infrastructure," Jeff Benck, vice president for IBM's eServer BladeCenter group, said in a statement.
The Brocade switches plug into the IBM BladeCenter chassis and use its power supply and cooling apparatus, eliminating the need for customers to buy extra gear to handle those jobs.
There are two types of networked storage systems,, or network-attached storage. Generally, NAS systems, which hook into existing Ethernet networks, are simpler to manage than SANs, but they aren't as well adapted for some tasks, such as database hosting. SANs generally are far faster and hold more data, but they can be expensive and require separate networking hardware, software and expertise.
Brocade plans to begin selling its two SAN switches for BladeCenter in June. Their prices will start at $14,999, IBM said.
CNET News.com's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.