IBM sharpens blade capabilities

Big Blue is expanding the communications features of its blade servers, with the aim of increasing their appeal for uses such as e-commerce and computing clusters.

John G. Spooner Staff Writer, CNET News.com
John Spooner
covers the PC market, chips and automotive technology.
John G. Spooner
2 min read
IBM will expand the communications capabilities of its blade servers this week, with the aim of increasing their appeal for uses such as e-commerce and computing clusters.

On Tuesday, Big Blue will begin offering a high-speed network connection from Myricom and a special rack-mount Layer 2-7 Ethernet switch from Nortel Networks as options for its eServer BladeCenter blade servers.

Blade servers are small servers that can be plugged into a special rack, where they are stacked horizontally like dishes or lined up vertically like books. The servers share a power supply and networking capabilities and allow customers to add more servers when needed. Because blade servers typically consume less energy and take up less real estate than standalone servers, they can help reduce companies' computing costs.

Blade servers are often used for simpler jobs such as Web site hosting, but IBM thinks that with added features, its blades can do more. The company has been working to bring the BladeCenter product line, on the market for a little over a year, into the mainstream of the server market by adding features that improve performance or simplify administration.

IBM says the Nortel switch and "Myrinet" networking options boost the performance of its blades when it comes to e-commerce transactions or operating as part of computing clusters.

The Nortel switch plugs into an IBM BladeCenter rack, sharing power and cooling with the blade servers that reside there. The switch is designed to manage the flow of network traffic between blade servers, such as that created by numerous, simultaneous e-commerce transactions. The switch also performs jobs such as balancing loads between servers and blocking unwanted traffic from the likes of denial of service attacks, IBM said.

Big Blue says the Nortel switch for BladeCenter is also less expensive, costing about $17,000, as opposed to the more than $20,000 one might shell out for a standalone switch.

"It's proving that as you integrate more functions, the savings begin to increase," said Jeff Benck, vice president, IBM eServer BladeCenter.

For customers with computing clusters in mind, IBM will offer Myricom's Myrinet Cluster Expansion Card, which lets IBM blade servers connect to high-speed Myrinet networks. Using the card, customers can introduce blade servers into their existing Myrinet network. Computing clusters string together large numbers of standard computers to tackle heavy-duty tasks such as conducting experiments for cancer research.

IBM's Myrinet cards will be used with another new feature, Big Blue's Optical Pass-Thru module, which lets customers connect IBM blade servers to their existing network without using a switch. The Optical Pass-Thru module assists with Mryinet networks, but can also link servers to storage area networks, IBM said.

The company has also begun offering its blade servers with faster, 3.06GHz Xeon processors from Intel, IBM said.

Previously, the fastest processor offered in the company's blade servers was a 2.8GHz Xeon chip.