McData and QLogic are partnering to produce SAN switch blades to sell through OEMs. IBM's BladeCentre servers can already have 6-port Fibre Channnel switch blades based on QLogic's SANBox 5200 technology. They can also use Brocade bladed switches.

Blades are mounted vertically in a special rack chassis instead of horizontally across the rack in shelves. Blade servers enable more servers per rack cabinet and make better use of data centre space and power. Bladed switches are a natural follow on as the denser server farms require denser switch connections to SAN storage.

McData envisages an expanding population of blade server SAN clients, and their need for SAN switch connections is better met by space-efficient bladed switches. The McData/QLogic switch has firmware enabling operation in McData fabrics plus McData management data, zoning, security and partitioning support.

In effect, McData gets a leg-up into the blade switch market by using QLogic product. The company sacrifices profit for quicker market-entry and lower product development costs. The IBM server blades can have QLogic HBAs fitted to access SAN Fibre Channel networks and these will work with the McData/QLogic bladed switches.

Both McData and QLogic OEMS will be encouraged to sell the new bladed switches. There will now be stronger competition between Brocade and McData/QLogic which will help bring switch blade prices down.

The blade server market is led by IBM, followed by HP with Dell a recent entrant. Brocade is already working with HP on SAN switching for its blades and partners Dell and EMC with Dell SANs. Score three OEMS to Brocade.

HP and McData recently inked a strategic alliance. Dell sells McData 24- and 32-port switches so McData is in with a chance. It's important because Dell is potentially a vast seller of bladed systems. But with three OEMs dominating the blade server market, switch blade prices could be pared to the bone threatening profitability. Great for customers, not so good for suppliers.