This spring at 3GSM, SBS Technologies announced a new BladeCenter T AdvancedMC carrier to support IBM's BladeCenter. The new carrier houses four AdvancedMC modules and enables the rapid development of convergent IMS media processing and signaling gateway solutions. Hal A. Humrickhouse, Worldwide Product Manager - eServer Group, IBM BladeCenter T, recently took time to answer a few of our questions about the addition of AdvancedMC modules to the BladeCenter T solutions portfolio.
Q: As an open, modular architecture, eServer BladeCenter T seems like a good candidate for AdvancedMC modules. What factors tipped the scales for IBM in choosing this form factor?
Simple. We think the AMC form factor will be a de facto industry standard for converging legacy I/O applications into an IP-based, NGN network. Our strategic commitment to COTS, coupled with listening to our customers and the marketplace, led us to this decision.
Q: What were the biggest technical hurdles to making AdvancedMC fit seamlessly with the existing BladeCenter T environment?
IBM has always appreciated (and has driven) the flexibility of a modular computing platform environment. Our challenge to integrating AMCs into the BladeCenter AMC-Carrier was hitting the moving target of the AMC standards, which are still in flight. By acknowledging our weakness in understanding the dynamics of the AMC standards within PICMG, IBM's Engineering and Technology Services (E&TS) division chose to partner with SBS Technologies who we feel possesses deep domain knowledge in the AMC market place, and has been a major player in the development of the AMC standards.
By understanding our own limitations, we were able to jointly develop a superior solution that has seamlessly enabled AMC modules into the IBM BladeCenter platform by partnering with a domain expert like SBS.
Q: Have any of your customers or prospects commented on the AdvancedMC deployment, and if so, what has been the general reaction?
Since our announcement at SuperComm 2005, IBM has received extremely favorable and positive reaction worldwide to our partnership with SBS and the joint deployment of the AMC carrier blade. Network Equipment Providers, Operators, ISVs and other strategic integrators have universally supported our adoption of the AMC standard and leverage of AdvancedTCA technology ideally suited to supporting transport/data plane applications such as gateway and signaling applications in the IBM family of BladeCenter chassis.
The BCT-4 AMC-Carrier Modular Communications Blade is available today from SBS Technologies and support in the IBM BladeCenter chassis family is targeted for late 3Q06. As recently witnessed at 3GSM (Barcelona) and TelecomNext (Las Vegas), we see strong sales momentum.
Q: Strong momentum is now gathering behind the commercial off-the-shelf approach to telecom equipment. How is the IBM BladeCenter T offering benefiting from this?
The transition to NGN is driving the need for standards and changes in business models. The legacy Telecom Development Model of yesterday built on proprietary, costly platforms is transitioning to an NGN Telecom Solution Development model in which emerging applications such as VoIP, IMS, and IPTV will be based upon a common, open standards hardware, OS and middleware greatly reducing cost.
Key IBM early NGN standards efforts began with our founding and investing of millions of dollars beginning in the mid-90s in the Carrier Grade Linux (CGL) working group to work with the open source community to develop specs to make it more robust. We worked with companies like Nokia to found Service Availability Forum (SAF) with the goal of driving a common way of creating the HA aspects of NGN solutions and stopping the wasted reinvention of the wheel by every solution team and supplier as they created new telecom applications.
We created the notion of Carrier Grade Open Framework (CGOF) by working with partners to decide where to focus and how to really productively create NGN applications. As we shared the notion of CGOF, many of our partners encouraged us to make this a public open standard, and so the notion of Open Communications Architecture Forum (OCAF) was born to bring in the whole industry to refine the concept and make it an open standard.
In summary, by helping drive open standards for NGN application platforms and our adoption of a COTS strategy many years ago, IBM BladeCenter T is now benefiting handsomely. We have deployed hundreds of units since our delivery to market in June of last year with very strong sales momentum and pipeline. We are innovators driving the technology curve with TTM advantage vs. laggards.
Q: AdvancedTCA and BladeCenter T would appear to be in direct competition with each other in the telecom space. How will the inclusion of AdvancedMC strengthen the IBM position?
BladeCenter T and AdvancedTCA complement each other well in the marketplace, with BladeCenter T supporting the fastest and most integrated turnkey server platforms in the industry and AdvancedTCA being well suited to the needs of transport layer applications. Standards activities like CGL, SAF, OCAF reinforce a common framework for software that enables applications to be supported across both products, and AMCs extend the ability to leverage common components in each platform.
IBM BladeCenter T is a high performance, compute centric carrier grade platform ideal for telco Service and Control plane applications. IBM's inclusion of AdvancedMC strengthens our ability to support the wide array of legacy telco network interfaces and network processors that Operators will require as they migrate to a converged IP network.
Given that AMC form factor cards will likely be the de facto industry standard for I/O in the future, our adoption of the technology now extends our value proposition from the core to the edge of the network.
In addition, new ecosystem partnerships have resulted broadening the ability to integrate once independent solutions into pre-integrated and tested, network ready solutions.
Q: IBM has an extremely strong position in the server market. Is there any discussion within the company of including AdvancedMC directly on some of those blades?
Most computer platforms only do two useful things with data—they inhale it (IO) or chew on it (compute). Mixing both operations in the same time and place can be hazardous, like choking. A Blade design that attempts to do both (AMCs and serious Processing) struggles to do either well (i.e., an AdvancedTCA Blade with 4 AMCs has little real estate or power left for any significant computing). That is precisely why IBM chose to develop the AMC-Carrier as a separate packaging entity from its powerful compute blades which deliver 250-430 Watts of computing per slot.
The BladeCenter AMC-Carrier enables flexible IO and PrAMC options for our customers without sacrificing the compute capability that has earned BladeCenter worldwide leadership and #1 market share.
Q: One of the original arguments for an open, standards based telecom architecture was volume pricing. How does this play into your strategy?
Hugely important—make no mistake about it. IBM development costs for BladeCenter T and accompanying blade servers are spread across the entire blade market, telco and enterprise. If you believe the industry analysts, the enterprise blade server market is 7X the size of telco blade servers. So, by spreading our costs across a much larger pie, our individual unit costs are much lower.
Furthermore, we design NEBS compliance into our blades and do not have to charge a premium for it.
Q: Considering the high power dissipation and density of these systems, how big an issue has cooling been?
Good question. Certainly cooling is a major challenge for IBM and likely any supplier of blade architecture given the nature of higher and higher performance processor roadmaps and obvious density issues. Having been in this industry for almost 20 years with several companies, I have not seen a company more committed to innovation leadership working with partners to deliver integrated, cost effective solutions rapidly to the market.
Cooling is the sleeping bear in the ATCA chassis closet. An ATCA blade with four AMCs lined up in a row may face a challenge properly cooling the last module, due to the pre-heating from the other three. The IBM AMC-Carrier Blade has arranged its four AMC bays as two separate bay pairs and does not suffer the three-module pre-heating issue. The BladeCenter chassis family has superior air flow, optimized for both Telco and Enterprise platform environments. BladeCenter offers a number of chassis form factors (with 3 in market today) enabling the customer to choose how to best accommodate his platform environment.
Q: AdvancedTCA system management is based largely on IPMI. How well did that structure fit into the existing BladeCenter T system management scheme?
The IBM BladeCenter T supports IPMI. It is the fundamental protocol for the chassis management system within the BladeCenter chassis between blades and the management module. Adapting to support AMCs was not a huge task, insuring that everything interoperates properly and in a turnkey fashion has been our focus—integrating in our labs so the customer doesn't have to.
Demonstrating true interoperability between customer-chosen Blades and AMC modules is a real concern for the customer. You'll note that IBM's BladeCenter platform came out years before AdvancedTCA, and BladeCenter was architected in collaboration with the founders of IPMI. BladeCenter blade management is centered on the IPMI architecture. Adopting and managing AMCs thru their IPMI interfaces is a natural extension of the BladeCenter IPMI-based management Architecture. Together, we need to watch that AMC vendors comply with the AMC IPMI requirements. SBS always has, and has been a dominant player in the interoperability workshops.
The several hundred companies that are participating in the PICMG consortium are struggling to demonstrate Standards compliance and true interoperability. IBM respects that challenge and has learned to deliver Server-Proven interoperability to the customer, under one roof, that high-reliability customers have come to appreciate.
We need to do a better job of communicating IBM BladeCenter T support for IPMI in the marketplace.