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Xsigo Goes Ethernet

The all-Ethernet data center took a step forward this week with Xsigo's introduction of its Ethernet-based IOV solution at VMworld. Xsigo is hardly the first vendor to introduce I/O Virtualization solutions based on Ethernet, which have been advocated for sometime by Aprius, Virtensys and Next I/O. Xsigo is the first vendor, however, to use the existing Ethernet adapter within the server to connect with the external card cage that houses the I/O adapter. Other solutions require replacing the adapter with a proprietary host bus adapter.

By not replacing the card within the server, Xsigo claims to dramatically reduce the time and complexity needed to enter into IOV. Data center managers need to simply plug-in the server to Xsigo's external chassis, load Xsigo's proprietary drivers and then enable IOV as needed. Xsigo contends that with competing solutions, data center managers would need to schedule server downtime, shut down server, remove cabling, de-rack the server, remove existing I/O and install new card and then re-rack server, install cabling, bring server up, load drivers, re-map I/O resources and bring applications back up.

"Be reasonable here," says Craig Thompson, vice president of marketing at Aprius "any virtual I/O infrastructure requires some modification of the environment; you're eliminating cards from servers as part of the move to pooling I/O, so you can't realize the efficiencies of virtual I/O in installed servers without touching some aspect of the server I/O."

In fact, the Xsigo approach may not necessarily require cards to be eliminated from servers; Xsigo just requires expensive, proprietary I/O  modules in the external card cage. But giving up on that simplicity of deployment also comes at a high price. Xsigo wouldn't say how much the actual I/O adapters cost for its solutions, but did say the VP560 external chassis, which includes thirty-two 10GbE ports, four IO modules and up to forty uplink ports, starts at $35,000. The larger VP780 includes thirty-two 10GbE ports, up to fifteen IO modules and up to 150 uplink ports starting at $45,000. By contrast Aprius uses existing PCI cards.

Still Xsigo's move is important in a number of ways. Two months ago, we criticized the Dell-Xsigo  partnership for all that it wasn't yielding. We argued at the time that Infiniband, while used within storage environments, didn't reflect the reality of most data centers. The introduction of an Ethernet solution addresses that challenge for Xsigo allowing it to play in both the very high and mid-range IOV markets. For Xsigo competitors, the introduction will complicate their pitches significantly. Xsigo is no longer "the Infiniband" solution, making differentiation more difficult. Perhaps the play on this front will need to revolve around standards adoption and price, two areas where Xsigo remains weaker.