Nehalem Cracks the Virtual Glass Ceiling

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Apr 1, 2009

Software can only do so much. If the scaffolding around it isn't strong or conducive to what it sets out to do, its capabilities are limited. This is especially true for virtualization, where to I/O and processing power can often stop performance in its tracks. Virtually Speaking: New offerings from Intel and Neterion aim to open the virtual bottleneck.

This week, a number of announcements emphasized the importance of hardware.

First, there was Intel, which introduced the much-talked about Nehalem processor on Monday. According to InformationWeek, "Intel believes Nehalem EP, officially called the Xeon 3500 and 5500 series, provides the kind of technology organizations will need as they deploy more virtualization into their data centers and move toward cloud computing ..."

The chips feature the hardware-assisted virtualization OEMs and enterprises have come to expect. With this release, Intel has sped up performance by including the 45nm Hi-k next generation Intel Core microarchitecture. The chip includes Hyper-Threading Technology; Intelligent Power Technology, which facilitates energy management allows for scalabe power consumption; and Intel Data Center Manager, a software development kit that provides power and thermal monitoring and management for servers, racks, and groups of servers in data centers.

Meanwhile, on the I/O side of town, Neterion Launches released a new version of its X3110 10 GbE server adapter.

Greg Scherer, CTO of Neterion, told ServerWatch he believes I/O is the next major market space to be virtualized, and for virtualization to truly take off, the I/O space must catch up with the advances made in both hardware-assisted virtualization and hypervisors.

Neterion, which produces solutions for the 10 GbE marketplace, focuses its products around virtual I/O and shared I/O to address both these challenges. Shared I/O, Scherer noted, is being driven by OEM market, while "virtual servers require virtual I/O to continue to scale."

The X3110 aims to resolve these issues without impacting the hardware or the software.

New is this third-generation product is "Integrated Hypervisor Offload technology," which aims to reduce the hypervisor's CPU utilization and free up system resources for applications as well as facilitate greater virtual machine density per platform and deployment of I/O-intensive applications. A key benefit of Hypervisor Offload is its support for the emerging Virtual Ethernet Bridge standard, which allows admin to migrate Ethernet switching overhead from the hypervisor to the X3110 adapter hardware.

Also new is Virtual Link Technology, which enables the X3110 to appear as 17 fully independent Ethernet adapters that can be mapped and managed ike multiple Gigabit adapters. The benefit of this, Scherer said, is that the instances are then linked directly to a virtual machine, bypassing hypervisor overhead.

The X3110 I/O Virtualized 10 GbE server adapter is available now in two flavors: single port 850nm SR Optical and single port Direct Attach (DA) twinax copper (also known as 10GBase-CR). Both comply with the new SFP+ module standard. Dual-port 10 GbE adapter versions (the X3120) will be available in the second half of 2009.

Although MSRP pricing starts at $899, Scherer noted street prices will be considerably lower.

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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