Dell has released an I/O virtualisation tool for its blade servers, making it easier for IT managers to install new blades and swap out servers, the company says.

Without I/O virtualisation, IT shops have to manually assign MACaddresses and World Wide Name (WWN) identifiers each time they put in a new blade server. Dell's FlexAddress, abstracts the MAC and WWN addresses from the blade hardware, instead tying the identifiers to slots within Dell's PowerEdge M-Series blade chassis.

"FlexAddress is like a life insurance policy against downtime," says Rick Becker, Dell's vice president of solutions.

Rivals IBM and HP already have I/O virtualisation tools for their own blade servers. HP released Virtual Connect in February 2007, and IBM announced its BladeCenter Open Fabric Manager in November 2007.

Dell is competing head-on with HP, because both vendors rely heavily on the x86 architecture, said Charles King of the Pund-IT analyst firm

The significant aspect of Dell's FlexAddress is that it will "work with most any I/O switch, including Brocade and Cisco," King says. "With the HP I/O solution, both the Ethernet and Fibre Channel connectivity is done with a proprietary HP switch module."

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Despite its proprietary switch, HP does claim Virtual Connect is capable of supporting "any industry standard" switch.

FlexAddress starts at $499 (approx £250). The product comes in the form of an SD card for the PowerEdge M1000e Chassis Management Controller.