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Dell has added some networking variety to its blade server line by selling McData Fibre Channel switches as a networking option alongside the compact systems.

Customers can fit up to 2 of McData's 4314 switches in Dell's blade server chassis - aka the Dell Modular Server Enclosure. The McData product joins other Fibre Channel switches from Brocade and Gigabit Ethernet and Infiniband products from various vendors. Improving its blade server line is critical for Dell which has fallen well behind rivals IBM and HP in the market for these hot-selling, higher-margin items.

Dell is in the midst of its second run at the blade server market. It released a redesigned box - the PowerEdge 1855 - in November of last year.

The blade market hasn't lent itself to Dell's typical follow the leaders and standardize strategy. Companies such as IBM, HP, Sun Microsystems and Egenera have all developed unique cases to hold the small blade severs. This lack of standards forced Dell to spend a bit of cash on research and development and delayed its rollout of the new 1855 product.

Meanwhile, IBM and HP have relentlessly assaulted the blade market with kit running on all types of different processors and with various operating systems. Such focus has helped IBM take 39 per cent of the blade market, and HP grab 35 per cent share, according to the latest data from IDC. Dell can claim just 9 per cent share. Sun has temporarily given up on blades as it too tries a second design.

IBM and HP offer a wide variety of networking options with their blade systems. Both companies quite happily promote Cisco switches with their kit as well as the McData and Brocade switches. ®

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