Volume 3, Number 45 -- December 7, 2006

IBM Tweaks BladeCenter H Chassis for Telcos

Published: December 7, 2006

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

IBM launched its BladeCenter H chassis back in February and is working on the modifications to the box that make it suitable in the ruggedized, DC-powered environment of telecommunications companies. The resulting machine, the BladeCenter HT, will ship in 2007 and is a kicker to the BladeCenter T chassis that Big Blue announced in the summer of 2003 and shipped in the spring of 2004.

While the telecommunications industry has its own blade server form factors and interfaces, makers of commercial blade server systems have been trying to meet the telecom industry half way by repackaging their products to run DC power, to fit in a 20-inch deep chassis instead of a 29-inch deep one, and to have other ruggedized features that the telco companies are required by law to have in their equipment--the so-called Network Equipment Building Systems, or NEBS, rules--to ensure that phone service stays up even during disasters such as fires and earthquakes. (The European Union has a similar set of rules from the European Telecommunications Standard Institute, or ETSI, and the new box is also ETSI-compliant.)

IBM, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, and Sun Microsystems could just supply AdvancedTCA blade chasses and servers, which fit the telco industry's own specs. Sun and HP do, in fact, and IBM and HP also offer DC-powered, NEBS-compliant variants of their commercial blade servers, too. They do this for several reasons. As much as the telco industry loves its own standards, NEBS-compliant machinery costs extra money to build and certify, and that means building up switching, call routing and tracking, and other services on the network can be more costly than the computing in other kids of data centers. The benefit of the AdvancedTCA telco blade standards is that blades and chasses are interoperable. And if there is anything that a commercial blade server supplier doesn't want, it is interoperability within the chassis. So, it is no surprise that vendors pushing blade servers to regular data centers also want to encourage telcos to move away from AdvancedTCA and toward their own designs.

Like before, IBM is giving the telecommunications companies that it hopes will be its customers for the new BladeCenter HT chassis plenty of lead time so they can start planning their 2007 and 2008 budgets now. According to Bruce Anthony, the chief technology officer for IBM's telecom offerings, the company will announce pricing on the BladeCenter HT chassis in the first quarter and that the box and its switches and other related gear will be available in the second quarter of 2007.

The BladeCenter HT will support the same blades that plugged into the original BladeCenter and BladeCenter T chassis from years ago, as well as the relatively new BladeCenter H chassis, which features a more powerful midplane management system interconnect and some space on the top and the bottom of the chassis to keep the box from overheating. That includes the two-socket HS20 and HS21 Xeon blades; the two-socket JS20 and JS21 Power-based blades; the two-socket LS20 and LS21 and four-socket LS41 blades; and the QS20 Cell-based blade.

The BladeCenter and BladeCenter H commercial chasses come in a 7U and 9U form factor, respectively, and each holds 14 vertical blades. For the BladeCenter T, which had to be less deep to work in telco facilities, IBM rotated the BladeCenter chassis on its side and mounted the 8 blades horizontally in an 8U chassis that was 23.6 inches deep (600 mm); switches and other gear were housed on both sides of the box, which meant it did not have to be the 28 inches deep that the regular BladeCenter chassis is. With the forthcoming BladeCenter HT chassis, IBM is putting a dozen vertical blades in a box that is 12U high, and is using that extra vertical space compared to the BladeCenter T to house switches and other gear.

Anthony says there is a bunch of gear IBM is helping foster for the BladeCenter HT. One is a 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch from Blade Network Technologies, which was spun out of Nortel Networks and sold to a private equity firm earlier this year. This switch will actually be ready ahead of the BladeCenter HT chassis, and will plug into the regular BladeCenter H chassis as well.

Another piece of electronics coming for the telco variant of the IBM blade box is called the AdvancedMC Carrier blade, which was created in partnership with GE Fanuc, a division of General Electric. This is a mezzanine card that plugs into a blade server that provides a means to link legacy telecom networks into the IP switched networks that are running on the blades and implemented in software; up to four of these adapters can be put into a chassis. Various legacy network adapter links, such as ATM or OC3 links, plug into this blade through daughter cards.

Finally, IBM is also delivering what it calls NGN Gateway, which provides six ports on a Xeon-based blade server and four ports on the backplane and which runs special software to handle denial of service attacks, clean out malware and viruses, and do other specialized functions as traffic is coming into the switched IP infrastructure. This board is only available on a special bid basis, and only has a single Intel "Woodcrest" processor, since the front ports take up the space where the other CPU socket would otherwise be on the blade.

IBM supports Linux and Windows on its X86 and X64 blades, Linux on its PowerPC and Cell blades, and AIX on the PowerPC blades.


IBM Delivers Promised Linux-Based Cell Blade Server

HP Says It Will "Blade Everything" As Next Gen Boxes Launch

IBM Announces BladeCenter Kickers

IBM to Build Telecom-Compliant BladeCenter Blade Servers

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Editor: Timothy Prickett Morgan
Contributing Editors: Dan Burger, Joe Hertvik,
Shannon O'Donnell, Timothy Prickett Morgan
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