Volume 5, Number 10 -- March 12, 2008

IBM Slashes Prices on Blade Server I/O Virtualization Software

Published: March 12, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

Last fall, IBM announced a new bit of systems software for its BladeCenter blade servers that virtualizes the Ethernet network and Fibre Channel storage area network addressing schemes built into adapter hardware in servers. This software, called Open Fabric Manager, takes hardware virtualization one more necessary step forward. But the software is new and it is not necessarily cheap. And so IBM is testing its pricing with a discount promotion.

As I explained last fall when Open Fabric Manager was announced, the software, which runs inside the service processor in the BladeCenter chassis, allows for the hard-coded Media Access Control (MAC) address in an Ethernet port and the hard-coded World Wide Name (WWN) address in a storage area network's Fibre Channel adapter to be virtualized. Inside the BladeCenter chassis, the blade ports come with preconfigured MAC and WWN addresses at the blade and chassis level. Outside Ethernet or SAN networks see these addresses and can hook into the servers and the chassis just as always. But Open Fabric Manager cuts the link between the MAC and WWN addresses the world outside the BladeCenter chassis sees and the blades and switches inside the chassis use such that if you yank out a blade server and plug in a new one in the same slot, that new blade inherits the connectivity of the old blade. This means network administrators do not have to fuss with settings in the Ethernet network or SAN fabrics to match the "physical" addresses stored in MAC and WWN codes in the new Ethernet or Fibre Channel ports on this new blade. Similarly, on the LAN and SAN side of the Open Fabric Manager, upstream links are virtualized, which means this gear can be tweaked and changed independently of the blade servers. By running in the chassis, Open Fabric Manager is independent of the operating system running on the blade servers, whether it is i5/OS, Windows, Linux, AIX.

Open Fabric Manager does the basic LAN and SAN address virtualization and costs $1,499 per chassis. Open Fabric Manager Advanced Upgrade costs an additional $1,999 per chassis and it allows address settings to be migrated from one blade server to another. To help encourage customers to give Open Fabric Manager a try last fall, IBM gave discounts on this blade system software that ranged from $500 to $1,000 per chassis so long as companies bought the software before the end of December. And here we are in February, and that deal has been resurrected in a somewhat modified form in a promotion offered through IBM's online store. Specifically, Open Fabric Manager is being sold through IBM's store with a 30 percent discount for $1,049, while the Advanced Upgrade feature is being sold at a 22 percent discount for $1,759. These discounts are not quite as steep as what IBM was offering last fall, but they are close.

The real question is why this software is not part of the basic functionality of the BladeCenter chassis itself. And I happen to think that in the long run, that is exactly what will happen. Open Fabric Manager will just be embedded in the service processors for the BladeCenter chassis. And in the meantime, customers who bring in Hewlett-Packard, which has its own I/O virtualization for its BladeSystem machines, will probably be able to get IBM to toss the software in for free to win the deal. Remember: Leverage the competition to your advantage.


IBM Virtualizes I/O in BladeCenter Servers

HP Ships Virtual Connect I/O for Blades, Adds Blade Workstation

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