VMworld has continued to grow every year in terms of both user population and topic areas. A few years ago, much of the VMworld content was focused on convincing data center managers that virtualization technology was here to stay and could be used for even mission critical applications. Those are days long gone though and the show is now focused on how virtualization can migrate IT resources to the cloud but there’s also a heavy emphasis on the tools needed to get virtualization to scale and be manageable.
One of the more interesting companies at VMworld this year is a small start up called Xsigo. In my role as an analyst, I see loads of start ups and there are very few that have technology that is differentiated enough for me to consider them “game changing.” Riverbed was one, Xangati another and most recently SeaMicro are a few and Xsigo is another.
At VMworld this week, Xsigo released an Ethernet-based virtual I/O solution which will allow virtual I/O to move from a niche technology to a main stream technology that can be used to scale virtualization and cloud environments. For those who aren’t hard core, data center geeks, I’ll explain the significance of this and I’ll start with a definition of I/O and virtual I/O.
I/O is the term used for the flow of data to and from a device attached to a network. When you save a file to the network, that’s I/O. Xsigo and other virtual I/O vendors deal with server I/O, that is information sent to and from a server. Virtual I/O is a term used to describe the “splitting” a single physical I/O connection into multiple virtual I/O connections. For example, if I had a server and I needed four network connections (NICs) and three storage connections (HBAs) without virtual I/O, I would need several physical I/O cards in the back of a server. Generally new I/O cards are added when new VMs are added or connecting to different storage systems, etc., so it’s not uncommon to have many I/O connections in one server. Virtual I/O would allow me to deploy a single physical I/O connector and then create seven virtual ones on the server itself. If I need an eighth, I just create yet another virtual one.
Although this sounds simple, traditional virtual I/O requires the opening up of a server, the possible removal of I/O cards, installation of new cards, running new cables and then some stuff to be installed on the server. Anyone that’s ever worked in a data center (and I spent the first 10+ years of my career in a data center – that’s why I’m such a fun guy!) will tell you that if requires opening up of servers and running new cables, it isn’t practical enough to deploy, no matter how big the cost savings. That’s why virtual I/O technology has primarily been limited to new server implementations.
What Xsigo launched this week is that ability to create the virtual I/O connections over a standard Ethernet connection. Almost every server comes with an Ethernet connector integrated on the mother board so the connector is already there. No more cards to install, no more proprietary cables and no opening of servers but all the benefits of virtual I/O without the installation mess. Another thing data center managers will tell you is that the more than can be done over Ethernet, the better. Ethernet is simple to work with, it’s low cost, highly resilient and has become the preferred connectivity method in data centers. Ethernet based virtual I/O brings the benefits of virtual I/O without the installation headaches and that’s the reason I think it’s got game changing potential.