3Leaf Sprouts Up

Startup emerges with $32.5 million in funding and virtualized I/O for sale

May 1, 2007

4 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Startup 3Leaf Systems has emerged from stealth with $32.5 million in funding and a new virtualization product.

Execs at the Santa Clara, Calif., firm say five early adopters are already using the vendor's V-8000, a box designed to provide "virtualized I/O" to LANs, NAS, and SANs by creating a pool of virtual disk and network connectivity across multiple x86 "bare metal" servers.

"The solution is aimed at users, such as hosted service providers, that require mainframe-style availability -- without the mainframe pricetag. We're trying to bring the capacity of large systems to low-cost commodity x86s," says Sash Sunkara, chief business officer and co-founder of 3Leaf. Her previous credits include executive posts at Brocade and Precision I/O.

This piques the interest of at least one prospective customer. "We've been interested in 3Leaf for awhile, and we've been lab testing and giving advice and feedback," says Bryan Doerr, CTO of service provider Savvis. He says the first phase of 3Leaf's product, which includes I/O virtualization, interests him because it lends itself to a multitenant server environment, such as Savvis's.

"When you virtualize a physical box across contractual resources, you need to control port I/O," Doerr says. Savvis hasn't actually bought the new wares, but it looks as if it will, if 3Leaf lives up to its plans.3Leaf controls I/O by creating what it calls a Virtual Compute Environment (VCE) using rackmounted commodity servers. The V-8000 assigns a worldwide name or MAC address to the LUNs and NICs in the rackmounted servers, then load balances across the VCE. The load balancing functions automatically ensure each server gets adequate I/O processing, but the function can be configured according to user-defined policies, too. Hence, one application can be tagged to get more I/O than others.

Each V-8000 comes with two AMD Opteron dual-core processors and two 250-Gbyte SATA II disk drives. The box connects to a maximum of 20 commodity rackmount servers supporting any OS via a 10-Gbit/s fabric (either InfiniBand or Ethernet will do). Typical setup calls for multiple V-8000s configured redundantly. On the client side, each V-8000 can be configured with 4 to 12 Ethernet ports at 1 Gbit/s or 2 to 14 Fibre Channel ports at 4 Gbit/s.

Sankara says the V-8000 will be available May 1. Pricing will be roughly $100,000 for two units capable of supporting 20 to 40 servers. 3Leaf's roadmap calls for extending its capabilities to CPUs as well as I/O processing later this year. And while the startup licensed technology from AMD late in 2004 for its first launch, Intel processors will be incorporated, and Intel Capital led the company's latest $20 million investment round, which closed in September 2006. Other investors include Enterprise Partners, Storm Ventures, and Alloy Ventures.

Significantly, 3Leaf says it's partnered with a range of vendors, including VMware, and that the V-8000 can create virtual I/O for servers running VMware ESX. This means groups of virtual machines could be given specific levels of I/O processing not related to the underlying hardware they're running on. "We abstract the layer between the server profile and the platform it's on," says 3Leaf's Sunkara.

For security, the V-8000 supports "exclusive" application connections on the client side and extends LUN masking and SAN zoning to virtual connections. Other than that, it supports authentication and authorization through the client-side LDAP, Active Directory, or NIS functions the user has in place.Downsides? Size might be one: Each V-8000 measures about 17 inches by 3.4 inches by 28 inches and weighs about 42 pounds. The solution requires a 10-Gbit/s private network. It's also unproven. Though Savvis has gone on record as a tester, and 3Leaf says it has two big banks, a big transport company, and an OEM in the wings (with more users to be added this summer), there is still no hard evidence for the capex savings and performance uptick 3Leaf claims.

Competition is building as well: HP offers a capability similar to 3Leaf's in its Virtual Connect product for its BladeSystem product, and IBM is reportedly working in this area. Still, both HP and IBM are 3Leaf partners, too.

If 3Leaf is able to do just a bit of what it says it can, that may be enough to cause a stir. "Where they are going is really exciting," says Mike Kahn, managing director of the Clipper Group consultancy, referring to 3Leaf's claim to be moving to CPU virtualization. "But today, even if they're a provisioning vehicle, that's a great improvement, especially for mission-critical applications. Users could take excess capacity out of their data centers."

Besides Sunkara, 3Leaf's other execs include CEO and founder Bob Quinn (ex-Network Virtual systems, Unisys, and Exxon); technical director and co-founder Scott Lurndal (ex-NanoBiz and SGI); and technical director and co-founder Isam Akkawi (ex-Network Virtual Systems and Nvidia).

Founded in 2004, 3Leaf has roughly 55 employees (not including about 30 contractors). John Kelley, ex-McData CEO, just joined the board of directors.Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

  • Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD)

  • The Clipper Group Inc.

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Intel Capital

  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)

  • Savvis Communications Corp. (Nasdaq: SVVS)

  • SGI

  • 3Leaf Systems Inc.

  • VMware Inc.

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox

You May Also Like

More Insights