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IT managers concerned about deploying blade technology into heterogeneous environments may have an easier time of it with the recent announcement that Brocade’s SAN (storage area network) switching capabilities will be integrated into the Hewlett-Packard BladeSystem architecture.

The integrated offering embeds a 4 Gbit-per-second Brocade Fibre Channel fabric switch into the HP BladeSystem, which itself integrates HP blade servers with associated network resources services, management software and virtualization tools.

By consolidating servers and storage connectivity into a single architecture, users will see rack space optimized by 50 percent, providing easier connection and management of multiple servers attached to SAN environments, according to Tom Buiocchi, vice president of marketing at Brocade Communications Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

Buiocchi also commented on the product’s high availability and flexibility to add resources as needed.

Executives from both companies touted the product as a way to reduce fabric infrastructure costs by more than 50 percent when compared with separate server and fabric switch infrastructure configurations.

The Brocade SilkWorm 4100 family of switches offers 16-, 24- and 32-port configurations. Click here to learn more.

Because the integrated product allows customers to use more combinations of storage and blade connections, the news should be welcomed by many with heterogeneous environments, said John Enck, a research vice president at Gartner in Loveland, Colo.

“One of the issues companies have with blade technology is that it doesn’t always fit well into their data center if they have a heterogeneous infrastructure,” he said. “This gives them a broader option for SAN interconnectivity and removes a barrier for deployment.

But even though the announcement is a step forward for the blade industry, HP is simply doing what it had to do to keep up with its competitors, some of whom announced similar agreements. IBM, for example, announced earlier this year that it would incorporate switches from both Brocade and Cisco Systems Inc. into its BladeCenter product.

“Everybody’s blade solution is unique, so vendors like Brocade and Cisco have to engineer different solutions for each vendor,” Enck said. “It’s hard to get pervasive support from anybody when each vendor has such a radically different architecture from the others.”

Click here to read about Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard turning their attention toward SAN management.

But just because two powerhouses have announced ways to make blade technology easier to incorporate into a variety of environments doesn’t mean others are following suit—at least not yet. Second-tier players such as Fujitsu and RLX Technologies haven’t done so. Dell, another major player, hasn’t yet revealed its plans, although Enck said he expects the company eventually to follow the lead of IBM and HP.

The real issue, Enck said, is the lack of standards in the blade-server arena.

“There are no standards for the size of the blade enclosure, for the backplane of the blades, for the additional modules that support SAN or network connectivity,” he said. Although he would like to believe standards will exist within five years, Enck said he just can’t be sure.

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