Storage blade coming to IBM's BladeCenter

New storage array consolidates storage for a number BladeCenter servers into one device

IBM has developed a new storage array designed to slide into the chassis of the company's BladeCenter line of ultra-thin blade servers, a company executive has confirmed.

The product, which has yet to be named, was designed to give customers a way to consolidate storage for a number BladeCenter servers into one device, said Jeff Benck, vice president and business line executive for IBM's eServer BladeCenter. "We see some value in bladed storage. We see some value, particularly with ISCSI (Internet small computer system interface) and moving the drives off of the (server) blades," he said.

Blade servers are designed to slide side-by-side into a common chassis, which allows the servers to be packed into a smaller amount of space than conventional rack-mounted servers. The design also lets them share resources such as power, networking, and even cooling fans. Blades have not lived up to initial market expectations and represented just under 5 percent of worldwide server sales in the first three quarters of 2004, according to research company IDC.

IBM has worked with Intel to build servers for BladeCenter and published specifications to make it easier for partners to develop software and hardware components that work with the blade architecture. IBM now claims to have more than 215 such partners, including Brocade Communications Systems, Cisco Systems, and McData, which announced plans to sell a storage area networking (SAN) switch for BladeCenter earlier this week.

Now the company is moving its own storage technology into BladeCenter. The first of IBM's storage blade designs is already in the hands of select customers, and the product is expected to be officially launched by year's end, Benck said.

The initial storage blade uses similar components to IBM's DS300 rack-mounted ISCSI storage array, but it is primarily designed for users who are looking to consolidate boot drives for an entire blade chassis into one storage device. IBM expects customers to continue to use arrays like the DS300 itself for data storage, the company said.

The storage blade includes six 2.5 inch (6.35 centimeter) SCSI (small computer system interface) drives, a network interface and a logic card, according to IBM. With current 2.5 inch drives, the storage capacity of this device would be in the range of 700G bytes. The storage will use some form of RAID (redundant array of inexpensive disks) design, although IBM executives would not specify exactly which form of RAID they planned to use.

In addition to the upcoming ISCSI storage blade, IBM is also toying with the idea of developing a Fibre Channel blade, which would use technology similar to that in IBM's midrange DS4000 system, Benck said. "We've already taken storage fabric and integrated it into the platform. We see an opportunity to (use) RAID controllers like with our DS4000 product line," he said.

Though IBM is the first major server vendor to commit to building a storage blade, others are considering this type of product, said David Freund an analyst with Illuminata Inc., in Nashua, New Hampshire. "There are some major players that are seriously looking at it. Now that IBM's move is becoming public, I think you'll see some other folks jump, perhaps sooner than they would have."

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