In a column earlier this year, I predicted that\u00a0the communications platform of the future would be the blade server. My prediction is beginning to be played out on blade servers from\u00a0HP,\u00a0IBM\u00a0and\u00a0Sun. Companies that have announced communications blades for the IBM\u00a0eServer BladeCenter\u00a0include\u00a0F5 Networks,\u00a0Myricom\u00a0Netilla, and\u00a0Nortel .Not to be outdone, the HP\u00a0ProLiant Blade Server has a\u00a0GbE2 Interconnect Switch\u00a0option, which is a 24-port gigabit switch module designed by Nortel; infrastructure option blades for traffic management and load balancing from F5; and a VPN\/firewall blade from Check Point. Meanwhile, the\u00a0Sun Fire Blade Platform has added "specialty" blades using onboard hardware acceleration for VPN and SSL proxy functions, content load balancing, firewall security and cache features.Cisco \u00a0has been busy focusing on transforming its existing products into competing multifunctional platforms. For some time, Cisco has been adding functionality using add-on cards for the router or LAN switch. Firewall, cache, VPN, load balancing and security cards exist for multiple versions of the Cisco router and LAN switches using IOS.Cisco's recently announced\u00a0CallManager Express\u00a0and Unity Express join its CallManager, CallManager SRST and Unity products to add VoIP within the router and LAN switch. Voice services are delivered via Cisco's access routers, including the Cisco 1751, 1760, 2600XM, 3600- series and 3700-series routers, and the Access Gateway Module, available on the Cisco Catalyst 4500-series switch. The key ingredient in this strategy is\u00a0the inclusion of voice applications \u00a0(PBX, Automated Attendant, mail) into IOS.The third platform created by Cisco is the\u00a0MDS 9000 Multilayer Intelligent Family\u00a0of storage-area network directors and fabric switches. IBM has\u00a0ported its TotalStorage SAN Volume Controller storage software into the Cisco MDS 9000 . This integrated solution will let customers administer volume management, data replication and point-in-time copies over the network across multiple storage subsystems.Which approach will win out in this battle for control of the communications platform?My opinion has not changed; the blade server will become the communications platform, for many reasons. These include cost; open, published hardware\/software architecture; sophisticated third-party developer alliance programs; third-party channel sales assistance; the use of standard operating systems; scalability at low cost; the reliability of the platform; autonomic functionality; and the ability for dynamic provisioning\/manageability.Then why isn't there a rush to replace communications platforms?There are several reasons:\u2022 The legacy problem of the installed base - not insignificant considering the number of LAN switches and routers installed in corporate data centers.\u2022 Users' relative inexperience with blade servers.\u2022 Lack of multiple-vendor products certified for insertion in a blade server; the add-on blade has yet to become a commodity.\u2022 The management "island" problem of policy, systems, networking and storage. Web services and other standards could address this critical issue - but only time will tell.\u2022 Last, and most significantly, there is the issue of\u00a0IOS\u00a0- impenetrable by a third party, as pervasive as Microsoft's Windows operating system and as proprietary as IBM's legacy SNA. Unfortunately, until the industry comes to grips with the IOS issue, the blade server will remain a communications platform "work in progress." Cisco has publicly committed to implementing the open interfaces specified in the\u00a0Open Grid Services Architecture. Although initially focused on\u00a0grids, these Web services interfaces one day might become the only open software portal into IOS services\/applications. Use of these interfaces, also contained in servers and storage, would set a level playing field for communications functionality in the blade server.