Blade takes virtualization to data-center rack

Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches for rack-level network virtualization

Blade Network Technologies, the data-center server-switch company spun off from Nortel two years ago, this week unveiled a line of Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches for rack-level network virtualization.

The 1U RackSwitch line is designed to perform server virtualization within the network. It also is intended to save energy through "rack-friendly" cooling, simplify management and provide fabric convergence through support for Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

The vendor makes blade switches for blade-server systems from IBM, HP and NEC. Blade claims leadership in this particular market, having installed more than four million ports connecting more than 800,000 HP, IBM and NEC server blades, with products deployed across 26 market segments.

RackSwitch switches are a key component of the Blade's strategy to reduce the total cost of ownership of data-center infrastructures by enabling scale-out from the server rack -- a strategy the vendor calls "Rackonomics." Rackonomics is positioned as a method of virtualization and scaling that's an alternative to those offered by such large data-center switch vendors as Cisco, which are anchored by large core switches -- for example, Cisco's new Nexus 7000.

Blade claims large core switches are more expensive to deploy and operate, and use power inefficiently.

"The Cisco approach is not too appealing to the server people, that's for sure," says Dan Tuchler, vice president of strategy and product management at Blade. "To rip and replace with a Nexus 7000 is a pretty costly thing. We should leave [virtualization] control to the server guy and leave the network to the networking guy. That's an easier approach to swallow."

The switches are the RackSwitch G8100 and G8000. The G8100 is a 1U top-of-rack switch equipped with 24 10G-Ethernet ports, and is designed for emerging high-volume 10G-Ethernet applications, clusters that require latency of 300 nanosec or less, or 10G-Ethernet aggregation.

The RackSwitch G8000 also is a 1U top-of-rack switch, but is equipped with 48 Gigabit Ethernet ports and four 10G-Ethernet ports for uplinks or stacking. It is designed for rack-level server connectivity, Web 2.0 cloud clusters or as a Gigabit aggregation switch.

Each RackSwitch has a nonblocking, internal switching fabric. The G8100 delivers "loss-less" I/O to carry FCoE storage traffic across Ethernet networks based on the emerging standards for Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE). CEE is an enhanced version of Ethernet for data centers designed to add flow-control and congestion-notification across multiple lanes of data and storage traffic on a single Ethernet fabric. Cisco refers to this as Data Center Ethernet.

Virtualization on the new switches is enabled by software that allows multiple switches to operate as one large virtual switch, providing network connections for an entire rack of servers. Bandwidth, virtual LANs, security policies and other network parameters can be set once for an entire rack of servers, regardless of the number or type of servers, Blade claims.

The switch software also allows server blades to be added, removed or replaced without address reassignment, which means that client devices will see no change in relevant network addresses as applications move from one physical server to another as in the case of failover, Blade says. Similarly, network and security policies follow as virtual machines are added or moved to meet changes in demand, the vendor says.

The switches also have front-to-back airflow for more efficient cooling; and lower power consumption -- six watts per 10G-Ethernet port compared with 20 watts per 10G-Ethernet port for conventional chassis-based switches, Blade says.

The RackSwitch switches are expected to be available in June at a starting price of US$5,500. The company will demonstrate the new switches at next week's Interop conference in Las Vegas.

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