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IBM beefs blade server networks

A Cisco switch where the sun don't shine

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As networking giant and server wannabe Cisco Systems last month hinted it would do, the company has launched a variant of its Nexus switch that can be tucked up inside of another server maker's blade servers. In this case, IBM has kissed and made up (sort of) with Cisco and is the first customer for the Nexus 4000 switch, which was rolled out by Big Blue as part of a networking refresh this week for its BladeCenter blade servers.

The Cisco Nexus 4001I switch module brings support for Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) features and the Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) protocol that Cisco has woven into its Nexus 5000 top-of-rack switches and their UCS 6100 counterparts in the "California" Unified Computing System blade setups. The combination of ruggedized, lossless Ethernet and FCoE allows for network and storage traffic coming out of and going into servers to be collapsed onto a single switch rather than having a separate Fibre Channel switch to link out to storage area networks.

The Nexus 4001I runs at 10 Gigabit Ethernet speeds, and has 14 internal ports and 6 external ports, and it runs the same Nexus operating system as is used in Nexus 7000 end-of-row aggregation switches and the aforementioned Nexus 5000 switches. The external uplink ports on the Nexus 4001I can be configured as 10 GE SFP+ or Gigabit Ethernet SFP, and the internal server links can plug into either 10 GE or Gigabit Ethernet ports on the BladeCenter server blades.

The Nexus 4001I is supported on IBM's BladeCenter H and BladeCenter HT chasses. The former is the flagship enterprise chassis while the latter is one aimed at telcos. This Cisco switch cannot be used in the low-energy BladeCenter E or the office environment BladeCenter S chasses. The Nexus 4001I will be available from IBM on November 5, and it has a list price of $12,999.

IBM also delivered a quad data rate InfiniBand switch module (which sports port speeds of 40 Gb/sec) made by Voltaire, which has 14 ports (one for each blade in the BladeCenter H and HT chassis) and which comes with PCI-Express host interfaces to link back to each blade. The Voltaire QDR InfiniBand switch for the BladeCenter costs $11,999.

Blade Network Technology was tapped for a 10-port 10 GE Ethernet switch module for the BladeCenter chassis (supporting 10 GE SFP+ or Gigabit Ethernet SFP external uplinks as needed). This module has 14 internal ports to link to the blades. This BNT 10 GE switch costs $11,199.

IBM has also shipped its own 10 GE Ethernet pass-thru module with 14 internal and 14 external 10 GE ports, which can be used to link the blades to each other within the chassis as well as out to top-of-rack Ethernet and CEE switches. This pass-thru module costs $4,999.

The BladeCenter lineup also now sports QLogic two-port 10 GE converged network adapters, which marries 10 GE networking and 8 Gb/sec Fibre Channel links to storage onto a single CEE card. This QLogic converged adapter costs $1,499.

And finally, IBM is now selling a Brocade 10-port 8 Gb/sec Fibre Channel switch module for the BladeCenter blade boxes, which is a real (rather than a converged onto Ethernet) Fibre Channel switch. It costs $6,699. ®

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