IBM selects Inkra for virtual data centre

IBM Global Services has agreed to purchase Inkra Networks Inc.’s 4000 VSSs (Virtual Service Switches) for its e-business on demand service. IBM will be purchasing a handful of Inkra 4000 appliances for delivery and deployment before the end of the year, according to information provided by Inkra.

IBM could not be reached for comment.

Inkra’s 4000 VSS devices allow service providers and companies with large data centres to consolidate IP (Internet Protocol) services on a single, rack-mounted device.

The company’s “virtual rack” technology uses software to simulate a physical hardware rack, allowing customers to deploy separate services such as firewalls, virtual private networking (VPN), server monitoring and load balancing on a single device as opposed to deploying separate, rack-mounted hardware devices for each service, according to Dave Roberts, vice-president of strategy at Inkra.

As part of its e-business on demand service, IBM offers hosted IT applications and services to companies that want to off-load ownership and management of their IT infrastructures. The Inkra 4000 proved to be a good fit for IBM, which already offers virtualized services through its IBM Virtual Linux eServers and IBM TotalStorage Solutions and was looking to add network services to the mix, Roberts said.

IBM has agreed to purchase less than 10 of the Inkra 4000 systems to start, according to Roberts. The devices sell for US$90,000 each.

Using the 4000, IBM will be able to allocate a virtual rack to each customer in a data centre, then customize the services for that customer. Administrators use a Web browser-based management interface to create new virtual racks and add new services to those racks, as opposed to the physically installing, cabling and configuring new hardware, according to Roberts.

All Inkra devices use a patented hardware-based virtualization technology called “HardWall” that simulates the physical isolation of separate, rack-mounted devices by dedicating system resources to each virtual rack, providing security and fault isolation and fault tolerance for each virtual rack. With HardWall, individual virtual racks can be added, removed and rebooted without affecting other virtual racks on the same device, Roberts said.

IBM has initially expressed an interest in deploying firewall and load-balancing services on the Inkra boxes. The device’s resource provisioning will also allow IBM to offer service level agreements (SLAs) that are pegged to performance for customers receiving network services from an Inkra 4000 box, according to Roberts.

“IBM is getting architecture for their data centres that is less costly and more efficient than the ‘buy the box’ approach,” said Michael Hoch, research director at Aberdeen Group Inc.

Inkra is competing in a crowded market for virtualization appliances with established companies such as Nokia Corp. as well as start-ups like Neoteris Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., Hoch said.

Initial Inkra deployment by IBM will be in the U.S., but Roberts hopes that IBM will roll out his company’s hardware worldwide in 2003.