Xsigo gives Ethernet a path into converged I/O

The company's latest I/O Director offers virtual I/O connections through standard server Ethernet ports

I/O virtualization vendor Xsigo Systems is tapping into the most ubiquitous network connections around, offering an appliance that lets enterprises carve many virtual links out of the Gigabit Ethernet or 10-Gigabit Ethernet port built into a server.

The company is announcing a new, Ethernet-enabled version of its Xsigo I/O Director at VMworld in San Francisco on Tuesday.

With I/O virtualization, one more piece of the data center becomes virtual and can be modified with relative ease to suit changing application requirements. Xsigo has been selling its I/O Director platform for three years, but only for use with InfiniBand server adapters. Enterprises have been able to plug a server into the I/O Director via a single InfiniBand connection and divide the capacity of that pipe into a number of different virtual Ethernet or Fibre Channel links. This eliminates the need to buy additional server adapters, said Jon Toor, vice president of marketing at Xsigo.

Xsigo's latest product allows enterprises to do the same thing without even buying the InfiniBand adapter, because Gigabit or 10-Gigabit Ethernet is built into almost all servers. The new I/O Director, available to order now for shipment beginning next month, will accommodate 32 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports. With it, administrators will be able to connect any server to any network or storage resource in minutes, according to the company. The system can even be managed via an iPhone or iPod Touch, using an application downloadable from iTunes.

In settings where 10-Gigabit Ethernet offers enough performance, the new I/O Director could be an economical solution, said Jim Levesque, a systems programmer at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. The DWP is already using the InfiniBand product and enjoying several benefits from it, he said.

The DWP uses InfiniBand to achieve 20M bps performance and very low latency, which Ethernet doesn't offer, Levesque said. The utility started using Xsigo's product in production at a new disaster recovery facility about a month ago. It allowed the company to create much fatter pipes between its application and database servers, Levesque said. It also meant the company could reduce the number of network adapters in each physical server by 80 percent. In previous deployments, DWP has installed as many as six Ethernet and four Fibre Channel ports in each server. With the I/O Director, it only needed two InfiniBand ports, each with 20G bps of capacity.

A side benefit of the system is that it allows for reprovisioning the network on the fly, saving time and money, Levesque said. Cutting down on the number of ports also reduces cabling, so the data-center architecture is simpler and there are fewer wires that may block airflow through the servers, he said.

Enterprises increasingly need some form of I/O convergence, said Gartner analyst Mark Fabbi.

"The problem is really driven by virtualization and the fact that workloads can and will move around, so we can't physically preconfigure and prescribe what the I/O mix is going to be and have that live for the life of that system," Fabbi said.

Some vendors, such as Cisco, are pushing Fibre Channel over Ethernet as a single network infrastructure that spans both storage, with its traditional Fibre Channel connectivity, and Ethernet LANs. Others, such as NextIO, utilize PCI Express. What technology is used matters less than having flexibility, Fabbi said. However, Xsigo's approach has the advantage of embracing the trend toward built-in 10-Gigabit Ethernet and allowing companies to start out with Gigabit Ethernet, he said. By contrast, Fibre Channel over Ethernet is solely a 10G bps solution, so it's limited to newer equipment, Fabbi said.

In that sense, Xsigo's system ultimately could be transitional, as servers in time will have both 10-Gigabit Ethernet and FCoE built in, according to Fabbi. FCoE will be featured in upcoming blade servers and, within a year or 18 months, in most new rack-mount servers, Fabbi predicted.

The base model of the new product, the VP560e I/O Director, will be priced starting at US$35,000. Dell, a partner of Xsigo, will also resell the Ethernet-capable systems.

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