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Xsigo Virtualizes I/O, Running Ethernet and Fibre Channel Over Infiniband

Three-year-old startup Xsigo Systems came out of stealth mode today,
launching the VP780 I/O Director. A 4U, switch-like device aimed at
simplifying and accelerating I/O virtualization, the box makes a single
network connection appear to be multiple virtual NICs or HBAs, letting
Fiber Channel SANs and 10-Gigabit Ethernet LANs share the same
physical cable.


I/O virtualization isn't strictly new. Virtual servers have always
needed a way to communicate with the outside world, so hypervisors like
VMware and Xen include code that gives every virtual server its own
virtual NIC and maps these to real network devices. (The two use
slightly different
approaches
, with VMware focusing on compatibility and Xen on
performance.) However, this can slow down a system, as well as make
VMs much harder to manage, because at some point every virtual NIC needs to
correspond to a real cable.

Xsigo's approach offloads NIC emulation to the Director, whose custom
silicon can support up to 780 Gbps at line rate. Each server has one
physical Infiniband card, which the Director can make appear to be
multiple Infiniband, Ethernet or Fiber Channel cards. The Director
itself has no MAC or IP address and is invisible to other network
devices, which see only the virtual interface cards in the virtual servers.

As with server virtualization itself, the main benefit is flexibility:
Network mangers can spread bandwidth around at will among virtual NICs,
as loads demand. When a VM is moved from one physical server to another,
its virtual NICs and HBAs all go with it automatically, so the
technology is most useful in large datacenters with many servers that
use virtualization. The Director itself has room for up as many as 24 Infiniband
ports, though Xsigo says it can support hundreds of servers by adding
separate Leaf Switches.

I/O virtualization will clearly be important, but Xsigo won't have the
market to itself for long. The PCI-SIG (Peripheral Connect Interface
Special Interest Group) is standardizing a form of I/O virtualization to
be built right into NICs, though this is less ambitious than Xsigo's
technology. Cisco Systems is potentially a greater threat. A year ago,
it acquired secretive startup Nuova Networks, which appeared to be
working on something very similar to Xsigo's product. Xsigo itself has
close ties Cisco rival Juniper Networks: Juniper founder Ashok
Krishnamurthi is its chairman, and Juniper is an investor in XSigo.