HP's BladeSystem racks are to get the addition of a 16-port Brocade SilkWorm 4Gbit/s SAN switch, a move designed to simplify the management of SAN (storage area network) connectivity.

As reported by Storage Pipeline, HP will give its 16-server BladeSystem rack a specially designed 4Gbit/s Brocade switch. When the SilkWorm 4100 was announced Brocade said it was ready for OEM use and HP is the first to publicly use the technology. In effect the 4100 ASIC and its supporting chipset and motherboard are being designed into a new rackmount enclosure specifically for HP.

Without the switch each ProLiant blade server needs its own HBA (host bus adapter) and Fibre Channel (FC) cable. The 16 FC cables are then connected to a separately purchased SAN switch which is, in turn, connected to an FC-connected drive array.

With the bundled switch, fewer than 16 FC cables are needed to connect the BladeSystem rack to the SAN drive array. Customers will see a reduction in the rack-to-SAN port count but that is only because part of the SAN infrastructure, the switch, is put inside the array.

Besides simplifying the SAN connection, the configuration may also save cost if the price of the BladeSystem plus Brocade switch is less than the cost of buying an external switch and cabling it up to the BladeSystem rack.

HP vice president of marketing Paul Miller is reported as saying the system "will work first and best through (an) HP-architected SAN". In other words, although non-HP SANs will be supported, the embedded switch BladeSystem will work best with SANs from HP - a tactic borrowed from Microsoft's playbook. So much for HP's committment to open SAN standards.

One possible advantage of HP's approach is that customers may be able to get 4Gbit/s speeds end-to-end, using an HP drive array with 4Gbit/s FC interfaces. This could be an advantage for customers deperate to have the fastest SAN available.

The Brocade switch and ProLiant blade bundle is expected to be available in the spring of next year.