IBM brings PowerPC blade to telecom system

IBM is to introduce a PowerPC blade for its telecom BladeCenter chassis at Supercomm.

IBM is using the Supercomm trade show in Chicago this week to reach carriers with a new blade offering and several partnerships involving its BladeCenter T telecommunications chassis.

The chassis is a version of IBM's blade platform that is built to comply with the NEBS (Network Equipment Building Systems) Level 3 standard for durability and high availability. Carriers need hardware that meets that standard for routing, switching and some network computing functions, such as DNS (Domain Name System) operations. With the BladeCenter T, IBM wants to allow carriers to merge their processing and communications infrastructures with blades that are interchangeable.

On Tuesday, IBM is set to introduce its first PowerPC-based blade for the BladeCenter T: a new version of the JS20 blade, already sold for other types of BladeCenter chassis, that has been slightly modified so it can be NEBS compliant when installed in the BladeCenter T. Also Tuesday, the company was to announce a partnership with carrier equipment maker SBS Technologies Inc. that will result in the first BladeCenter communications blade designed for communications protocols other than IP (Internet Protocol).

Using the BladeCenter architecture on both live carrier network servers and less critical back-end systems should create the "volume economics" that can drive down prices, according to Tim Dougherty, director of BladeCenter marketing at IBM. The platform can help the industry move away from proprietary interfaces in traditional carrier equipment to more standardized interfaces and operating systems, he said. Cisco Systems, Nortel Networks, Lucent Technologies and other vendors have used the BladeCenter platform for some networking or telecommunications applications.

The industry is making progress toward greater standardization, but interoperability that spans network and data-center servers is not likely to happen, according to industry analysts. It usually isn't even necessary, said Gartner's John Enck.

"These are typically two different operations that are run by two different parts of the company and that are in two different locations," Enck said.

Adoption among carriers has been slow for both BladeCenter and for ATCA (Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture), another architecture that aims for interchangeable components, analysts said. "It's a tough industry to crack. ... They tend to want the most established products," Enck said.

Though IBM's Dougherty sees BladeCenter making strides while ATCA becomes a more low-volume, high-priced technology, Enck and Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff both see ATCA gaining more acceptance.

"I think there's still an overall perception, with a certain degree of justification, that BladeCenter is kind of tied to IBM," Haff said.

The JS20 is a computing blade based on a 2.2GHz, 64-bit PowerPC 970 processor and runs either carrier-grade Linux or IBM's AIX flavor of Unix. The blade will ship in July, priced the same as the current version of the JS20: The base price will be US$2,259 for a blade with two processors and 512M bytes of memory. It can be installed alongside network interface blades and perform computing tasks for operation of the commercial network, such as DNS and resource management, Dougherty said. IBM is bringing a PowerPC-based blade to the BladeCenter T because carriers have long embraced that chip architecture, mostly in the form of Motorola Inc.-based systems, he said. There are already a number of BladeCenter T offerings based on Intel Corp. processors, Dougherty said.

IBM's partnership with SBS will see IBM Engineering and Technology Services and SBS jointly develop an AMC (Advanced Mezzanine Card) carrier blade for BladeCenters. AMC is a telecommunications industry standard for hardware components that can handle legacy protocols, such as signaling gateways between IP and ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode), Dougherty said.

Also this week, IBM is announcing partnerships with Motorola, Fujitsu Siemens Computers (Holding) BV and Clovis Solutions for middleware that ensures high network availability. IBM will let customers order middleware from those vendors integrated into IBM's Integrated Platform for Telecommunications, which includes BladeCenter or BladeCenter T platforms and carrier-grade Linux. In addition, Motorola is developing a BladeCenter VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) blade, according to IBM.

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