James HP and IBM are tossing barbs at each other in the blade server space this week with dueling management tools that greatly simplify administration, whichever platform you choose. On Monday, HP announced the latest iteration of its Virtual Connect technology and today, IBM finally unveiled its competitive offering, Open Fabric Manager (although IBM’s won’t start shipping until Dec. 21). Both tools let administrators pre-assign network and storage configuration settings that fail-over and migrate with the server and virtual server images running on those blades. They both also, in these latest iterations, let you manage these profiles across multiple blade chassis (up to 100 chassis).

While one can certainly quibble over which vendor’s solution is better, IBM argues more flexibility, supporting a wider variety of Ethernet and FC switch blades. HP claims Virtual Connect is more mature, feature-rich, and capable. There’s no denying this type of competition is good for enterprise buyers. Blades are more power and space efficient, provide greater configuration flexibility, and now are far simpler to manage than volumes of traditional rack-mount servers.

For IT consolidation purposes, blade chassis are arguably the best consolidation platform available today. Their benefits over racks of traditional x86 servers are obvious. But their fit is now extending past that of even UNIX scale-up systems. Large UNIX SMP servers have historically leveraged hardware partitioning as their means of slicing up a large server. Blades are essentially the equivalent of this capability. Yet there’s more configuration flexibility in today’s blade chassis, as you can mix any ratio of storage and compute, intermix FC, iSCSI, 1GbE, 10GbE, and InfiniBand, and even mix processor families. And there’s no migrating of software from one platform to another — a big win. Add in server virtualization software and these new network connectivity management tools, and you have a very compelling solution for consolidation.

While everything about each vendor’s blade chassis are proprietary, that shouldn’t prevent you from leveraging these solutions to meet consolidation needs. The blade market is a new and important battleground for server vendors and their latest innovations are highly likely to show up here first.

By James Staten

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