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Dell conjures magic SD card for virtualizing blade server I/O

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HP and IBM have some super fancy technology for virtualizing the I/O of their blade systems, and they sell it for thousands of dollars. Dell now has something similar - an SD card that it sells for $499 a pop.

Texas-blessed Dell last week started shipping FlexAddress, which is "enabled by a special SD card." By "enabled" and "special SD card," Dell means that it has dumped some software on an SD card that can plug into its relatively new PowerEdge M1000e blade server system. More specifically, the special SD card enables itself by fitting into the Chassis Management Controller (CMC), which is a small unit that handles some remote access and power control operations on the M1000e chassis.

The SD card holds a unique set of 208 Ethernet MAC addresses and 64 Fibre Channel world wide names, so it's handling some of the networking and storage mapping grunt work usually done on a blade-by-blade basis. With the card in the chassis, customers can remove blades and slot in new systems without needing to reconfigure the individual servers. Basically, this makes the blade chassis more, well, flexible. Networking and storage mapping is done on the chassis level instead of the individual blade level.

The technology is very, very similar to HP's Virtual Connect and IBM's Open Fabric Manager.

HP released Virtual Connect way back in Feb. 2007 and can link up to 100 of its c-Class systems together. IBM birthed Open Fabric Manager in Dec. of 2007, also providing support across 100 of its BladeCenter chassis.

Open Fabric Manager will cost you about $1,500 to $2,000 per chassis, while Virtual Connect runs about $4,500 per chassis at last check. We'd update you on HP's pricing if its Virtual Connect web site was at all useful for such a task. Then, of course, you have to pay extra for the specialized switches which slot into these blade systems.

Dell's FlexAddress technology can only stretch across two chassis, if you also use the company's Flex I/O technology. Yes, this is a limitation versus the rival offerings, and one Dell will confess to. FlexAddress, however, costs $499, and you can use regular switches with the Dell system.

On a related note, we understand that Dell will start shipping full height blades in the next few weeks. Dell has only been offering half-height blades since introducing the M1000e chassis in January. ®

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