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Dell joins ranks of I/O virtualization providers with FlexAddress

Dell's FlexAddress tool virtualizes switching for PowerEdge M-series blade servers much like HP Virtual Connect does, but at lower cost and without requiring new management tools.

Dell Inc. has introduced a new technology called Dell FlexAddress that virtualizes the I/O in its PowerEdge M-Series blade servers. The tool is akin to Hewlett-Packard Co.'s popular Virtual Connect I/O virtualization product.
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Dell's M-series blade server announced earlier this year impressed analysts because of its power efficiency and performance and because of its Flex I/O switch feature, which allows for switch upgrades without ripping and replacing existing switches. The new FlexAddress tool increases I/O flexibility in the M-series blades still further, said Glenn Keels, the director of global relationship marketing at Dell.

"When it comes to blades, our customers have been telling us that simplifying the technology comes down to two key elements: performance and power per watt, and flexibility from an I/O standpoint," Keels said.

Dell's new FlexAddress works by abstracting the Fibre Channel World Wide Name (WWN) and Ethernet/iSCSI Media Access Control (MAC) from the M-Series blade hardware and tying it to a slot in the M1000e chassis. The tool is managed by the Chassis Management Controller (CMC) in the PowerEdge M1000e. Further, it is agnostic to existing I/O modules in servers, so users need not replace their switches in order to use FlexAddress, Keels said.

Dell FlexAddress virtualizes the switches across up to 8 chassis (up to 128 servers), making them appear as a single virtual switch and also works with all Dell pass-through modules. The FlexAddress SD card, which enables the FlexAddress tool, is now available starting at $499.

I/O virtualization party in swing
Dell's FlexAddress has arrived 16 months after competitor HP introduced its HP Virtual Connect product for BladeSystem c-class blade servers, which virtualizes the connections between blade servers, the network and the storage resources. The system gets wired once and can be changed quickly and as often as needed. A failed blade can be replaced in minutes without having to disturb the LAN or SAN addresses. An HP Virtual Connect Ethernet module starts at $5,699 and the Fibre Channel module at $9,499.

Last year, Ideas International Ltd. analysts deemed HP Virtual Connect one of their favorite blade server technologies.

"We decided HP's Virtual Connect technology was the most innovative time- and labor-saving tools out there, because it allows users to change their connections on the fly," said Ideas International analyst Jim Burton.

IBM also offers a similar I/O virtualization product – the BladeCenter Address Manager -- for its BladeCenter H as part of its Virtual Fabric Architecture. The product was announced a month prior to HP Virtual Connect.

While Dell is late getting its I/O virtualization technology onto the market, it is a step in the right direction, Burton said.

"This is part of Dell's strategy to remake itself into an HP or an IBM instead of just being just a box seller, and they have been doing positive things to move in this direction," Burton said. "Even though they are late in the game and HP and IBM already have this technology, [FlexAddress] is a valuable me-too product for Dell to have."

Late as they are, Dell claims it has created an I/O virtualization product that is much more economical than the competition because it does not require new switch gear, which some users have identified as one of the drawbacks of products like HP Virtual Connect.

"We have taken a very different approach than HP. Theirs is a proprietary switch that plugs into their backplane, and after adding all of the switching, it can cost about $20,000 for one chassis," said Rick Becker, vice president of software and solutions, Dell Product Group. "We have done this using open standards, so FlexAddress works with other switches like Cisco and Brocade and users don't have to switch their switches."

Also, FlexAddress management is integrated into Dell's default M-series blade management application, so it doesn't require another management layer. By comparison, HP Virtual Connect is managed through the dedicated HP Virtual Connect Enterprise Manager.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

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