Dell has expanded its blade server plug-ins to push them into the wider market.

The company will begin selling McData's 4314 Fibre Channel switch for its Dell PowerEdge 1855 blade next week, according to Tim Golden, Dell's director of PowerEdge server marketing.

The switch will enable the blade to connect to storage hardware and integrate with SAN fabrics. A single switch will cost from $8,999 and include four short wave SFP (small form factor pluggable) optical transceivers.

One area where Dell still lags IBM and HP is in support for switching technology from Cisco, Golden admitted, adding that he expects that situation to be remedied soon. Also in the near term, Dell is looking at including non-SCSI drives and adding support for serial ATA.

With the McData switch, Dell will now be able to offer customers two fabric switches - it already sells Brocade's Silkworm 3014 switch. Golden estimates that it will be a 50/50 split between Dell customers opting for McData and those choosing Brocade. Dell prices both the McData and the Brocade switches around $300 per port less than what's offered by other blade vendors, according to a Dell spokesman.

"Our goal is to take blades to a volume market," Golden said. "We want to specifically position them as general purpose servers." He explained that Dell's design of its blades reflects that strategy. "The [blade's] feature set is identical to all our eighth generation servers with the 64-bit Xeon processor," Golden added. "For us, it's about sameness and likeness, not about difference."

Lance Levanthal, editor of the BladeLetter, agreed with Golden that blades will become ubiquitous. "I think blades are going to be everywhere," he said. "It's not revolutionary, it's just an improved form factor. I think everyone will use them for everything."

For the time being, though, blades continue to be mostly used in the high performance computing arena, but Golden expects that to change rapidly. "We see them being used as application servers, for consolidation, for file and print, for OLTP [online transaction processing] in databases," he said. "If moving blades as general-purpose servers does cannibalise the existing market [for Dell servers], that's okay."

However, Levanthal is so far unconvinced of Dell's vaunted success in the market. "I've seen no evidence of them making any in-roads," he said. "All the big volume customers are either HP or IBM. So far, Dell's impact has been very, very minimal. I don't think they've figured it out yet."