Vendors Offer Ways to Virtualize and Save

By Dan Muse (Send Email)
Posted Sep 10, 2007


Server and storage virtualization are proving to be viable technologies that reduce operating costs and improve efficiency. However, the infrastructure connecting servers and storage networks is still an expensive and time-consuming bottleneck for many IT departments. With Xsigo Technologies' promise to lower costs through I/O virtualization and Onaro's automated storage provisioning offering, the virtualization wave has clearly broken on the storage shore.

In a move to help reduce complexity and IT spending, Xsigo Systems, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based startup, today announced the Xsigo VP780 I/O Director, a I/O virtualization tool the company claims can reduce operating costs for large data centers by 50 to 70 percent by simplifying infrastructure management.

Both the product and company behind it are making their debut at VMworld, which begins Monday in San Francisco.

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The Xsigo VP780 I/O Director replaces physical network interface cards (NICs) and host bust adapters (HBAs) with virtual interfaces that appear to applications and operating systems as physical connections, Jon Toor, vice president of marketing at Xsigo, said.

I/O Director replaces hardware and software switches and supports thousand of interconnections. It's not unusual, Toor said, to have "six cables for I/O for each server. That makes a mess and is hard to manage." Rather than running multiple NICs and HBAs for each server or storage device, I/O Director virtualizes those interconnect with one InfiniBand interface.


Xsigo VP780 I/O Director
Servers and storage virtualized? Complete the picture with virtual NICs and HBAs.

Industry experts seem to agree that virtual I/O is natural link in evolution chain. "As virtualization is already changing server and storage best practices, it's logical to extend this to I/O resources," said John Humphreys, program vice president of IDC's Enterprise Virtualization research.

Piece by Piece
The product consists of the VP780 I/O Director, a 4U device that provides an interconnect between servers and networking. The chassis includes 24 10Gb/s ports for server or expansion switch connections. The chassis accepts up to 15 plug-in modules for network and storage connections and includes support for Ethernet (1Gb and 10 Gb), Fibre Channel, InfiniBand and SSL encryption.

A 24-port InfiniBand leaf switch provides connectivity to additional servers. Xsigo claims this combined solution allows I/O to be configured, by server or by virtual machine (VM), as needed, in minutes.

Bottlenecks can occur in virtualized environments because when multiple applications share physical I/O, bandwidth to a particular VM isn't guaranteed. Xsigo's QoS features are designed to eliminate that problem by guaranteeing bandwidth to specific VM. This, the company said, will pave the way for VMs to be used in production environments where mission-critical application performance must be assured.

For to help ensure security, virtual I/O is associated with specific VMs. Those associations can be migrated along with those VMs to maintain secure access to network and storage resources, allowing security provisions to remain intact.

Real Savings
Due to the complexity of traditional I/O, Toor said, "connectivity costs now often exceed server costs." The company claims that in large data centers, capital costs for server I/O often exceeds $2,500 per server. In addition to those direct expenses, indirect costs are incurred whenever IT staffers need to manually reconfigure, remap or recable resources, which requires coordination among multiple groups.

To illustrate the potential cost savings of a virtual I/O infrastructure. Xsigo offers this example for the cost of redundant I/O for 120 servers. Conventional I/O would require 480 NIC ports, 240 HBA ports, 480 Ethernet cables, 240 Fibre Channel cables, 480 Ethernet switch ports and 240 Fibre Channel ports for a cost of approximately $600,000. The company claims its offering would require 240 ports, 240 cables, two Xsigo chassis and six Xsigo Leaf switches for a cost of approximately $300,000.

Toor said Xsigo takes an open standards, vendor-neutral approach and works with servers, blade systems, Fiber Channel, iSCSI, operating systems and hypervisors for most vendors. However, Xsigo's technologies are supported by storage and server certifications from IBM and HP, and are interoperable with equipment from Dell, EMC, NetApp, 3Par, Microsoft, Xen, VMware, Juniper and others, the company said.

Xsigo VP780 I/O Director is priced from $30,000.

Onaro Brings Data Center Automation to Storage
Xsigo is far from the only vendor serving up a data center automation solution. At this week's VMworld, Onaro will showcase a virtualized storage product.

Last week, the company unveiled the VM Insight 1.0, a new product in its SANscreen product family designed to maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks for virtual machine implementations. When VM Insight ships in December, it will join an updated SANscreen Capacity Manager 1.0, SANscreen Provisioning Manager 1.0 and SANscreen Service Assurance, all of which began shipping last Tuesday.

In addition to bringing data center automation to storage, these products can reduce storage spending by as much as 20 percent, Onaro Vice President of Marketing Bryan Semple said.

VM Insight builds on SANscreen's service path awareness and change management technologies by providing real-time service-level information on CPU, memory, I/O, network bandwidth, SAN bandwidth and array performance. VM admins can use the data to determine the most effective ratio of VMs per physical server and achieve maximum ROI. The software also provides admins and storage teams with a common view of network storage service paths and changes and gives storage teams a holistic view of the physical and virtual loads having an impact on the storage environment.

In simplist terms it "removes the requirement to go to a storage guru," Semple said. This, he claims, opens up an other avenue in cost savings, as enterprises can use lower-skilled storage admins for these tasks.

Dan Muse is executive editor of internet.com's Small Business Channel, EarthWeb's Networking Channel and ServerWatch.
Amy Newman contributed to this article.

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