IBM system to simplify rack-mount switch

IBM system to simplify rack-mount switch

A new Advanced Connectivity Technology (ACT) has been introduced by IBM that will allow IT departments to daisy-chain together as many as 256 of its xSeries Intel-based servers while using fewer costly switches and far less cabling.

In an announcement last week, IBM said the system will cut the number of switches needed in rack-mounted systems by 90 per cent, saving money and configuration time for network administrators. In addition, because the system uses thinner and more common CAT5 cables, cable costs and clutter can be reduced over heavier wiring, the company said.

ACT works by linking groups of 16 rack-mounted servers together, then plugging those bundled groups of servers into a 16-port management switch controlled by a single administrative console. Consoles are available for local or remote control of the configuration. Traditional configuration methods required individual cables running from each server to a switch and a maximum of 16 servers connected to one switch.

Jeff Benck, director of product marketing for IBM's eSeries and xSeries servers, said ACT could typically save $US67,000 in switch costs for each 256-server configuration while simplifying installation and administration. Each 256-server system can be controlled using one keyboard, monitor and mouse.

A similar system has been used by IBM for about two years for its Linux-based x330 1U rack-mounted servers using a C2T cable chaining technology, Benck said. That system allows 42 servers to be linked together, far fewer than the 256 allowed by ACT. The old C2T system did not offer remote administrative capabilities, he said. ACT is backward compatible with C2T, so those units can be connected and remotely operated.

Pricing starts at $US1,300 for a local console system for up to 64 servers and $5,200 for a remote console for up to 256 servers. ACT will begin shipping on July 31.

Mark Melenovsky, an analyst at IDC, said the new daisy-chaining system can make system setup and configuration easier for IT departments and simplify the addition of more servers.

Melenovsky said the technique is likely to mean changes for the traditional keyboard, video and mouse (KVM) switch makers since it greatly increases the number of servers that will be operable from one KVM switch. "Management switch companies see the writing on the wall," he said, and will eventually have to bring in similar capabilities or lose business.

Joseph Zhou, an analyst at D.H. Brown Associates, said ACT is a big improvement over IBM's earlier C2T technology. The old C2T system had to be built into the server itself, but the new ACT system can just be plugged into the servers without internal connections.

Other hardware vendors, including Dell Computer and the former Compaq, which is now part of Hewlett-Packard, also have similar cable reduction systems, but they handle up to 40 servers, he said. While the new features are promising, the market may not be quite ready for them, he added.

"I don't think this is going to be industry-standard technology anytime soon," Zhou said. "But definitely this is something competitors will have to look into. For IBM, this is a huge improvement, but for other vendors, do they have to have this to manage their racks? Maybe not."

In other news, IBM unveiled its new rack-based eServer x345 2U server with Intel Xeon processors and up to six hot-swap hard drive bays and five PCI slots. The x345 server is available with a choice of Microsoft Windows, Linux or Novell NetWare operating systems. The servers will begin shipping on July 31 with a starting price of $2,799.

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