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IBM this week made good on its promise of delivering another appliance server for the blade chassis bolt-on for its System zEnterprise 196 mainframe, while also slapping some labels and new prices on the top-of-rack switches that it controls through last year's acquisition of Blade Network Technologies. IBM is also offering a price break on the switches it resells.

The zEnterprise BladeCenter Extension, or zBX for short, is a BladeCenter chassis that has been coupled reasonably tightly with the mainframe's internal control networks, bringing the mainframe processing engines and external blades under the thumb of a single Unified Resource Manager (URM) control freak.The zBX setup puts two BladeCenter chassis in a in a rack and up to four racks can be linked to a single mainframe, for a total of 112 blades.

You can find El Reg's detailed analysis of the zBX networks and how they lash it to zEnterprise 196 mainframes here, including how IBM is going to allow Windows instances to run on the Xeon-based blades in the zBX in the not-too-distant future.

In terms of general-purpose compute blades, the zBX chassis that started shipping last November could only have the PS701 blade server, which is based on an eight-core Power7 processor and which runs IBM's AIX Unix, installed in it. The Xeon-based Linux servers are not yet supported inside the zBX – that comes later this year, with Windows running on these Xeon blades coming next, followed by Linux on the Power7 blades.

In addition to these general-purpose blades, IBM has been shipping Smart Analytics Optimizer – a parallel query tool that can prechew complex queries for DB2 databases running on mainframes – since last fall on the Power-based blades.

The Smart Analytics Optimizer blades are based on the PS701 hardware and run atop AIX and make use of IBM's Global Parallel File System to spread data over multiple blades inside the zBX chassis. The blades link back into the mainframe databases over a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network that is, as it turns out, an integrated blade switch built by Blade Network, which was eaten by Big Blue last September for an estimated $400m.

Starting this week, a tweaked version of IBM's DataPower data-integration appliance running on the Power-based blades can slide into the zBX chassis. This appliance has the totally tongue-twisting name of the IBM WebSphere DataPower Appliance X150z for zEnterprise, and takes z/OS applications and acts as a go-between to present them as SOA and XML services to outside applications, which don't speak green-screen. The X150z appliance for the zBX costs $85,000. This integration blade will be available for the zBX on March 18.

IBM also said on Wednesday that it was launching two new switches from its Blade Network networking unit, which will start shipping on February 28. But as it turns out, the two machines are not actually new boxes at all: the RackSwitch G8052 is a 48-port Gigabit Ethernet top-of-racker with four 10 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks that was announced last September, and the RackSwitch G8264 is its companion that debuted in October with 48-ports running at 10 Gigabits and four uplinks running at 40 Gigabits. While these machines are not new – they are new to IBM, of course – they do have something new: higher prices.

Blade Network was charging $6,000 for the RackSwitch G8052, but IBM's starting price is now $10,999. And for the RackSwitch G8264, Blade Network was charging $22,500, but Big Blue wants $29,999 for the unit. It will be interesting to see how far Big Blue has to discount these prices to peddle products.

And the company is sometimes very eager to make big discounts. Also this week, IBM announced a 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch promotion for its BladeCenter blade-server chassis. If you order selected switches through IBM's online store before June 30, you get a 40 per cent discount off list price. This includes not only the 10-port switch that Blade Network designed for IBM's blade box before it was snapped up by Big Blue last fall, but also the Catalyst 3110X and Nexus 4001i switch modules from Cisco Systems and the converged 10GE switch model from Brocade Communications.

Finally, IBM has announced a "workload optimized" version of its HX5 blade server, which is based on Intel's eight-core, high-end Xeon 7500 processors, and tuned specifically for supporting database workloads. The database blade comes with two E7450 processors, 32GB of main memory, one 10 Gigabit Ethernet virtual fabric adapter, and two 320GB solid state disks from Fusion-io. This blade lists at $47,355 and is available now.

IBM says that sometime during the first half of 2011, it will put beefier 640 GB Fusion-io SSDs on these blades and also allow customers to add multiple virtual fabric adapters to each blade to boost the bandwidth into and out of them. ®

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