IBM Serves Up Blade Management Tools

IBM announced a new addition to its BladeCenter portfolio Monday designed to make its blade servers more open and easy to use. IBM’s BladeCenter Open Fabric Manager provides I/O (input/output) virtualization that can help reduce the cost and complexity to enterprise users through its open architecture, the company said.

“Customers who want to cut costs and complexity through I/O virtualization, consolidation and aggregation while realizing outstanding performance and investment benefits from converged server fabrics are fueling the demand for open tools such as IBM’s new Open Fabric Manager,” said Vikram Mehta, president and CEO of Blade Network Technologies.

Open Fabric Manager will begin shipping Dec. 21. It is priced at US$1,499 per chassis. BladeCenter Open Fabric Manager Advanced Upgrade is priced at $1,999 per chassis.

Simpler, Easier

As more and more IT administrators use virtualization to run multiple applications at the same time on their servers, one major concern is ensuring that the applications remain tied to the same networks, storage, etc., whenever the applications are moved to another system, said Dan Olds, principle analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group.

“The move towards virtualization is prompting a lot of development of products that make it easier to manage virtualized systems,” Olds stated. “The competition between IBM and HP on these products helps to speed new features and capabilities to customers.”

IBM’s Open Fabric Manager, along with rival HP’s latest version of its Virtual Connect technology, unveiled last week, help simplify the management and maintenance of all of these application to I/O assignments, he continued.

Open Fabric will enable IT administrators to track and manage I/O virtualization across 1,400 individual blades, or up to 100 chassis, from a single management log-in. The tool virtualizes the I/O switching process so that if one blade fails or is replaced with another, the software will detect the change and automatically connect the new server to the storage network or LAN (local area network). Reconfiguring MAC or worldwide name addresses is no longer necessary.

“It makes it much easier for businesses to use virtualization to [their] fullest capacity, as they can easily move virtualized workloads from system to system without having to physically or logically reconnect servers to storage or network resources — Open Fabric Manager automates this kind of provisioning,” Olds told TechNewsWorld.

“Open Fabric Manager, like HP Virtual Connect, is designed to make configuring blade servers easier. It allows you to set network and storage resource settings and assignments that move with the blade,” echoed James Staten, a Forrester Research analyst.

“For example, if an application is running on a blade that dies and fails over to another blade in the chassis — or on another chassis in the rack — when you put in the replacement blade, it will automatically get assigned the settings of the previous blade that had died,” he continued.

Whether those blade servers are hosting a single application or a virtualized set of servers, it makes blade configuration and management much easier, Staten added.

“The value of this software increases in a virtual environment as multiple virtual servers share multiple physical connections on the blade. Not having to manually reconfigure everything in a move, replace or refresh task is a great value,” he pointed out.

The Big Difference

Unlike HP’s offering, however, Open Fabric offers administrators an “open architecture,” IBM said. That means the software supports the “complete range of Ethernet and Fibre Channel technologies,” the company added. With support for switch technology from third-party vendors like Blade Network Technologies, Cisco and QLogic, administrators can avoid the cost of having to buy new hardware.

“It’s not really an open architecture. All blade architectures are closed. IBM simply allows third-party networking blades built to the IBM specification to play with Open Fabric Manager,” Staten pointed out. “Open would mean you could use the same blade in an IBM BladeCenter and an HP C-Class Chassis. That simply isn’t possible today.”

Insofar as it can be considered open, that is almost always more attractive than proprietary, Olds stated. Because Open Fabric supports a wide range of devices, it will work with more I/O products than the HP offering and give customers a wider spectrum of choices in terms of the I/O products they want to use.

“This is a significant capability. Customers need and want the flexibility to use products from a wide range of vendors, plus they also already own products from other networking vendors. The fact that IBM Open Fabric Manager works with most of the existing network products is a big advantage in that it will fit into more customer data centers without requiring additional hardware spending,” Olds added.

Overall, both products — HP’s and IBM’s — offer capabilities that are comparable, Staten and Olds agreed.

“Both, when they ship, will support up to 10 chassis at a time, both provide similar functionality. Open Fabric Manager is a 1.0 product, so customers should approach it with the same caution they do any 1.0 product. Virtual Connect has more history. Since they are proprietary to each vendor’s blade chassis, you have to first buy that vendor’s blade solution,” Stated advised.

“At a high level, overall capabilities look to be roughly the same. The major difference is that the HP product requires an HP switch and the IBM product will work with hardware from all the major industry players,” Olds noted.

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