IBM takes on HP with I/O virtualization

IBM says product eases blade server provisioning and reconfiguration

IBM has developed an I/O virtualization tool that makes it easier to move workloads from one blade server to another by automating the process of assigning I/O addresses.

IBM BladeCenter Open Fabric Manager, announced today, will start shipping in mid-December. IBM bills the product as an upgrade over HP's Virtual Connect because IBM uses open technology that's compatible with switches from multiple vendors.

I/O address virtualization solves a problem faced by blade administrators, that they are faced with constant provisioning and reconfiguration of systems to adjust for changing workloads, writes analyst Joe Clabby in a piece for Pund-IT Research analyzing IBM's offering.

Administrators must assign MAC addresses and World Wide Name identifiers, and after basic hardware setup they have to assign LAN and SAN connection addresses. Then they have to repeat this process for every server they install.

"Instead of physically mapping each blade to external networks every time a new or replacement server is needed, IBM's BladeCenter Open Fabric Manager automatically maps new or reconfigured servers," Clabby writes. "Blade managers can cut configuration time down from days to minutes."

It also saves customers the trouble of assigning new addresses when one blade fails and a workload must be moved to another server, says Stuart McRae, IBM's BladeCenter business line manager.

IBM's new I/O virtualization offering will compete with HP's Virtual Connect.

HP's product is simpler, as it can be run by lesser-skilled systems administrators as long as they know how to monitor and control a blade systems environment, Clabby writes. But Virtual Connect costs more than IBM's take on I/O virtualization. HP bundles I/O address management with hardware, with the Ethernet hardware costing US$5,600 and Fibre Channel hardware costing US$8,000, according to Clabby.

IBM's Ethernet switch costs US$999 and its Fibre Channel US$5,000. To get I/O virtualization through Open Fabric Manager, IBM customers pay US$1,499 to US$1,999 for each chassis consisting of 14 blades.

McRae argues that IBM has one-upped HP by supporting technology from multiple vendors, like Blade Network Technologies, Brocade, Cisco, Emulex, NetXen and QLogic.

"You see huge cost savings with the IBM route because customers can choose switch technology that meets the functionality they have," McRae says.

HP has instead engineered its own proprietary device, Clabby writes, so "the level of HP's Virtual Connect integration with other vendors' management environments is not as feature/function rich as the IBM offerings."

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