Blade Network Technologies: “IBM now has the network fabric to solve its clients’ pain-points in the data centre”

Back in June 2010, we visited Blade Network Technologies, a Nortel spin-off which was doing exceptionally well in the data centre business by providing networking infrastructure and services within the data centre; a concept Vikram Mehta had described as being the “network fabric” of the data centre. We paid another visit to BNT on November 18 at their new premises in Santa Clara, but this time, BNT is no longer a start-up  but an IBM company. So what has changed since then and what is in store for the market in that area?

“Not much has changed in BNT Mehta said, apart from the red bar in the E of the Blade logo which has became blue” (as shown in our logo montage on top of this post) Mehta said, but the IBM deal was described in detail by the CEO of BNT as being a real oppportunity for IBM clients.

It’s actually not quite true that things haven’t changed since June. BNT is now 322 people-strong, vs. 250 when we last met in June 2010, hiring more people in sales, engineering and customer support. BNT is also very close to the 10m shipped ports bar which was their goal at the beginniing of the year and they are now #2 in data centre switching.

On Oct 29, IBM closed the acquisition of BNT, a deal which had started on September 27, 2010. “As was discussed at our latest meeting in June” Mehta went on, “what our customers are worried about is the scaling of their data centre infrastructure”. The architecture of the future will be made of many IT elements, federated together: “but how do you connect such elements?” Vikram Mehta asked: “with the network fabric” he said, “and now IBM has that network fabric”.

“The maximisation of the IT infrastructure has very much been discussed via the world ‘virtualisation’” Vikram Mehta went on and IBM was a pioneer in virtualisation years ago. Now, Blade Network Technologies is bringing network virtualisation to the lot so that IBM is able to “deliver in all the areas of virtualisation: server, storage and network” Mehta said. Besides, because networks are the weakest link in IT security, and because BNT has a track-record in network security, IBM is also able to better protect its clients’ data centres. There are many other areas in which BNT can team up with IBM beyond architecture improvements such as data warehousing (through the recent acquisition of Netezza by IBM), TCO reduction.

IBM focus: “best of breed solutions”

How is BNT linked to IBM and through which division? There are 2 things. IBM exited the networking business in 1999 and in 2010, almost 10 years later, they re-entered the market through the acquisition of BNT. BNT will report to the systems and technology group (STG) and will form the networking division within that group, Mehta explained. Tivoli does IT service management at the highest level, Mehta added, and BNT has already been integrated in that picture for a long time and this integration will only get better under the new management.

The approach , compared to other visions on the market is far less proprietary, a vision in which customers choose what is best for them (NAS, fiberchannel, Tivoli, Openview, Opsware etc.) we will continue to provide linkages to all these systems.

By focussing on the system, IBM is focussed on “best of breed” regardless of where elements come from, and “IBM is committed to best of breed” Mehta insisted. Hence, all the agreements that BNT had in the past, with Cisco, Brocade and Juniper will continue in the future. Some solutions are brought to the market by IBM themselves, some are third party and delivered by IBM.

what does it change for BNT

It is easy to see what IBM is getting in that deal, but what are BNT’s own objectives? “Our focus is to grow our share of the pie” (see Gartner stats on the righthand side), Mehta responded, and BNT will achieve this through innovation and strategic partnerships, Mehta added.  He also mentioned that the slice of the pie would grow because the overall market itself would be growing too.

IBM will be working with co-opetitors HP and NEC

Mehta insisted that the business that BNT was doing with HP and NEC will not only continue but will be re-inforced.

Blade Network Technologies: “we do business with people for whom, when the network goes down, it will cost millions of dollars!”

the network as a business enabler

On June 3rd, 2010, at the end of our press trip in the Silicon Valley, we have had the opportunity to meet with Vikram Mehta, President and CEO of Blade Network Technologies (BNT), a four year-old company dedicated to “providing the interconnect fabric” behind cloud computing to put it in the words of our host who welcomed us at BNT’s headquarters in Santa Clara, Ca. What is behind this concept of “interconnect fabric” is the provision of intelligent networking and storage application connectivity for virtualised data centres.

what is keeping CIOs awake at night?

What I particularly liked about Vikram’s presentation was his introduction in which he described very clearly the 7 painpoints which are keeping CIOs awake at night.

  • first and foremost, scalability – the almost obligatory buzzword in the infrastructure industry and in the Bay area in particular – is of the essence. As businesses grows rapidly and business owners rely extensively on IT to support their needs, the requirement for that IT infrastructure to grow with the business is becoming an imperative,
  • as data centres have to grow exponentially, density is one of the most critical issues that IT managers have to face. It’s a matter of packing as much computing and storage power as possible in as little space as possible. Yet, it’s not just an issue of piling up more storage bays and blades, it’s also a matter of providing the critical connectivity between these various elements (computing, storage and I/O). All of these leading to mind-boggling issues in the data centre,
  • thirdly, a faster and larger deployment of such infrastructure is a towering issue. Imagine a large investment bank which was used to deploy 5,000 new servers each year. That very same bank – because of the increasing importance of automatic trading – was led to deploy 100,000 servers last year! This is what happened to Morgan Stanley and BNT helped the Bank overcome that issue and even won an award in that process,
  • fourthly, maximising the utilisation of that infrastructure is critical too. Not all servers are used in the same way. Some sort of yield management (i.e. the method pioneered by airlines in the 1980s in order to maximise the number of passengers per aircraft) is necessary in order to optimise the usage of deployed resources,
  • the fifth problem that CIOs are facing in this mass computing age is security, a topic often tackled on our own blogs. As more business is pushed online, namely in banking and investment banking as seen in the above example, more security is needed because hackers will always focus on a) where the information is widely available online b) where big money flows,
  • next on CIOs’ agenda is the need to be able to mine such data efficiently across huge databases. In essence, if more data is stored online, real-time drill down in humongous data bases becomes a critical issue, as seen in detail with our visit to Clustrix in San Francisco,
  • last but not least comes the total cost of ownership (TCO) issue, which is obviously and directly linked to this exponential growth in server and capacity deployment in the data centre.

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