Xsigo Takes a Punch at Cisco With New Virtual I/O Offering

By Amy Newman (Send Email)
Posted Sep 2, 2010

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SAN FRANCISCO – At a lunchtime press conference at VMworld on Tuesday, Xsigo Systems, as promised, donned both metaphorical and actual boxing gloves and unveiled its latest plan to overtake Cisco in I/O virtualization with an Ethernet-based version of Xsigo I/O Director.

Xsigo took up the fight for networking to the cloud with an Ethernet version of I/O Director.

Xsigo CEO Lloyd Carney spoke of the criticality of virtual I/O and its role in enabling cloud computing environments. Cloud, he said, is the next inflection point in efficiency

With cloud comes new architectural needs. Carney noted that the traditional data center infrastructure is no longer effective. "Keeping 20 year-old architecture doesn't work in a cloud environment," he said, adding that such architectures are simply not scalable or flexible enough.

Enterprises need an architecture that is flexible, efficient and allows for changes to be made in minutes, not days. Virtualization is key to this, and Carney noted that "the only piece of your cloud that is not virtualized is I/O because the switch vendors don't have any incentive to sell it that way."

Enter this latest version of I/O Director, which can connect servers to every data center resource via a single conventional Ethernet server port. It uses the same hardware and software platform as the current InfiniBand-based I/O Director.

What Xsigo claims as the biggest differentiator between I/O Director and the more common solutions that require Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) adapters and PCIe link extenders is that I/O Director does not require costly add-on cards, and thus can deliver a complete end-to-end converged connectivity solution for less than $500 per server, which the company estimates is about one-third the cost of a converged network adapter (CNA) card alone.

In addition to the upfront costs, there are the business costs. An FCoE or similar solution is disruptive to install, increases power consumption and is one more piece of equipment for IT to manage.

Because Xsigo connects to servers via standard Ethernet ports, I/O Director customers can dynamically connect servers to as many as 64 isolated Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks with a single Ethernet cable via 1 gigabit and 10 gigabit Ethernet ports found in all x86 servers. This architecture allows for making changes on the fly. IT administrators can modify server connections in seconds via software rather than physically changing conventional adapters and cables, which can take hours or even days.

Two Ethernet editions of I/O Director will begin shipping later this month. They are available for purchase now. VP560e I/O Director with 32 10G Ethernet ports and up to four I/O modules will be priced at $35,000, while VP780e I/O Director will be priced at $45,000 and offer up to 15 I/O modules. Carney explained to ServerWatch that each card is officially capable of supporting up to 120 servers, and some enterprises push it as high as 200, though the vendors doesn't recommend it.

In terms of attracting new customers, Carney told us that customers that come to Xsigo with some with equipment from Cisco or HP typically add Xsigo's equipment to the mix incrementally. New installs, in contrast tend to go all Xsigo.

Cisco's Response

Cisco vice president/CTO SAVBU Ed Bugnion expressed doubts both about the openness of Xsigo's solution and whether that is really what customers are after. Cisco's belief, he told ServerWatch, is that "customers want a converged and integrated solution that eliminates complexity."

Cisco's Nexus switches, he said, are based around Gigabit Ethernet and offer "all the benefits of the Ethernet ecosystem experienced by network managers."

He also noted that Cisco's solutions have a strong element of openness to them: The API is open, which has enabled an ISV ecosystem to grow around them, thus providing customers with choice within a consistent framework.

Amy Newman is the senior managing editor of ServerWatch and Enterprise IT Planet. She has been covering virtualization since 2001, and is the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, published by Pearson in October 2009.

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