Dell and Others Put Memory, I/O in Spotlight

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Feb 4, 2009

Memory and I/O are far from the stuff that dreams, even IT dreams, are made of. Both fall into the category of things no one gives much thought to when everything is working as it should. Virtually Speaking: A partnership between Dell and Xsigo, and a new offering from RNA networks aim to ensure memory and I/O remain fast and unnoticed.

All too often, however, it does not work as it should. Memory and I/O issues are among the bigger technical issues many organizations face. The reasons for this are multiple, but for the most part they boil down to the pipes not being wide enough to handle everything coming through, no matter how much much processing power is thrown at it. In a virtualized environment, the hypervisor generally gives each OS instance a fictional story about where its memory actually resides but also must track where that memory is really located. This, in turn, impacts I/O, as the hypervisor seeks to move around data.

This week, two companies announced offerings designed to help alleviate these woes.

RNA networks, a venture-backed startup, on Monday introduced a new type of virtualization with its latest offering, RNAmessenger. The name of the type of technology, memory virtualization, may be new but the concepts behind it are not. Semantics in the name are also somewhat misleading, as the virtualization the company is referring is not referring to the servers themselves. RNA networks memory virtualization refers to memory pooling to assist high-end systems suffering from memory bottlenecks.

RNAmessenger uses the organization's already existing hardware to build memory pools, thus "making memory a shared resource across the data center and cluster," Andy Mallinger, marketing vp for RNA networks, told ServerWatch.

RNAmessenger does this without making any changes to the IT infrastructure or application. Instead, it brings together memory sitting on all devices within the data center. Any device with memory is added to the pool. It is so hardware-agnostic that it includes any device, so long as there's a connection (e.g., switches and routers). It does not, however, include desktops.

The performance benefit, is achieved because to the application, memory appears as cache, Mallinger said.

The "secret sauce," as Mallinger describes it, behind the product is RNA's Memory Virtualization Platform, which is designed to "eliminate the constraints of memory being captive on one device" and thus alleviate application bottlenecks associated with memory. Memory Virtualization Platform is the foundation for the company's two current offerings, RNAmessagner and RNAcache, as well as future products.

To accomplish these ends, the Memory Virtualization Platform decouples memory from the processor and server, aggregates or "pools" available memory across data center or cluster nodes, and makes it available as a shared network resource available to all servers. Because of this, it claims it can unleash high-performance computing from already-present commodity hardware

And although RNAmessenger does not have a product for virtual machines (VMs) yet, Mallinger notes that it does work in parallel with them, and is usually being run in virtualized environments.

RNAmessenger was released to beta in fourth-quarter 2008. One U.S.-based, global multi-billion dollar hedge fund is already on board as a customer. It is priced on a per-node basis at $7,500 per node, with node installations ranging from tens of nodes to thousands. It runs on all x86 hardware, as well as IBM Cell and Cray systems

Keeping the I/O Flowing

Meanwhile, on the I/O side of town, Dell and Xsigo Tuesday unveiled a partnership under the terms of which Dell will offer the Xsigo I/O Director with its PowerEdge servers and storage solutions. The companies will also work together on technology roadmaps to further develop reseller resources.

The aim of the combined Xsigo/Dell solution is to make it possible to manage I/O resources from multiple vendors from a single console, instead of being restricted to a single vendor solution, as well as to eliminate physical I/O port restrictions by letting users deploy new I/O resources to servers on-demand.

Connectivity is thus sped up. As Rick Becker, vice president of Software and Solutions, Dell Product Group, noted in a statement, "With the addition of the Xsigo virtual I/O product family, we now offer I/O virtualization that enables delivery for both IP and Fibre Channel."

Xsigo consolidates the I/O infrastructure and replaces physical network and storage interfaces (i.e., NICs and HBAs) with virtual resources that can be deployed on the fly. The intent is a software-based, wire-once infrastructure, where configuration changes are done in minutes and remotely managed.

Xsigo is not new to the deal-making scene. In May 2008, it partnered up with Verari to deliver a solution that integrating Verari's BladeRack 2 X-Series platform with Xsigo's VP780 I/O Director.

Amy Newman is the managing editor of ServerWatch. She has been covering virtualization space since 2001, and is coauthoring a book about virtualization that is scheduled for publication in September 2009.

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