Blade Network Technologies Challenges Cisco With Unified Fabric

data center architecture

Blade's Unified FabricArchitecture (UFA) is aimed at cutting the cost and complexity of deploying physical and virtual data infrastructures, said Vikram Mehta, president and CEO of the Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor of networking switches and software.

Developing a unified architecture to cover both data and storage networks is important as a way to move away from the complexity of dealing with separate fabrics for Ethernet, Fibre Channel, and InfiniBand, Mehta said.

"So many fabrics means that the cost of acquisition is high, the cost of setting up is high, the cost to operate is high," he said. "While that may have been OK when a customer had only a few servers, having multiple fabrics just compounds the cost and management issues."

Blade's UFA is based on 10-Gb Ethernet switches with attributes suitable for both data and storage networking, Mehta said. When combined in a network, those switches produce a lossless network, which ensures that no packets are lost due to congestion, a key requirement for storage networking. They also feature low latency, which improves network performance between servers, he said.

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UFA also features network-aware virtualization, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), and the company's vNIC, or virtual network interface card, Mehta said.

Network-aware virtualization makes it possible to move network attributes attached to a virtual server along with that server any time it is migrated across the network to another location. Mehta said this attribute works with any hypervisor, while Cisco's VNTag capability only works in VMware environments.

Blade's vNIC is a software running on the company's network switches which works with the new 10-Gb CNAs (converged network adapters) from Emulex to virtualize the 10-Gb pathway into up to eight different data paths to let customers control the bandwidth and security of data related to specific applications, he said.

"This lets customers take advantage of CNAs to cut cable clutter by a factor of eight, which also cuts costs, heat, and maintenance," Mehta said.

Blade's UFA also includes the company's FabricHarmony Suite of software, which consists of three applications: BLADEHarmony Manager for managing elements within the data center fabric; Smart Server Control for managing the configuration, I/O, and provisioning of blade servers; and Open Fabric Manager for advanced data center fabric management.

Blade also has signed an agreement with Juniper Networks under which it will become the first company to license Juniper's Junos operating system for its network blades. The company expects to be using Junos, which focuses on routing, switching, and network security, along with its own BLADEOS operating system by 2011, Mehta said.

"Companies like IBM, HP and NEC buy Cisco for their blade products because Cisco offers a contiguous networking operating system from core to edge," he said. "But we signed an agreement with Juniper in October 2009 which allows us to now compete with Cisco."

Juniper, along with NEC, in September invested in Blade's $10 million B round of venture funding.