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IOV: The Final Frontier of Server Virtualization

The planets are finally clicking into alignment in the world of server virtualization, freeing IT to build a galaxy of high-performance and easy-to-manage virtual machines. However, before virtualized servers can become as performance-efficient as their physical counterparts, hardware and software vendors must provide sharable storage and network IO-after all, IO is the lifeblood of the data center. Development of virtualization-aware IO devices is crucial to making virtualized servers as efficient and reliable as physical servers are today.

Chip-assist technologies like Intel VT and AMD-V have opened the door to more efficient VMs (virtual machines), but keeping snorting beasts like eight-way, 1U servers fed with enough IO to keep a dozen or more VMs productive is still a challenge on a number of levels. Up-and-coming high-bandwidth fabrics like 10GbE, 8GbFC, SAS and DDR 4X InfiniBand can provide large-enough pipes to supply even the biggest racked server, but most adapter cards today are still designed to provide only one system interface and support only a single instance of an OS.

IO Virtualization Today

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At present, disk and network IO is being accomplished by using a combination of software and CPU cycles to create a functional-if inelegant-shared IO environment, but at the cost of lower IO performance than what's achievable on a physical machine. The goal for IO vendors will be to find an efficient way of slicing up all this new bandwidth to feed those hungry masses of VMs.

That's where IOV, or IO Virtualization, comes in.

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