Valovic on Virtualization

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Getting a Better Handle on I/O Virtualization

OK, I admit it. I'm intrigued by the names of companies. Take xkoto for example, a company that Virtualization Review recently spoke with (See Keith's recent blog on this). Obligingly, the company's Website actually tells you how the name was created: "xkoto is a transliteration of two Greek words which taken together convey the idea of "out of darkness, out of chaos". I just want to go on the record here by saying that I heartily endorse the idea of moving out of chaos...

3Leaf Systems is another company that sounds like it might have an interesting story behind its name; unfortunately, the Website doesn't illuminate. We could, however, surmise that the three leaves are the three major areas of virtualization that the company is addressing: memory, CPU, and I/O. Right now I just want to talk about one "leaf", namely I/O virtualization, the only area where the company is currently shipping product.

You're no doubt hearing a lot these days about desktop, server, and storage virtualization and less about I/O. This is an important area in any redesigned data center architecture looking to capitalize on the full benefits of virtualization -- i.e., keeping the resource base highly flexible and adaptive. However, in many respects, I/O development has not kept pace with the other forms of virtualization technology.

Virtualization is about making enterprise infrastructure hardware-independent. But it's about Layer 1 independence as well. Server I/O is limited by cabling and physical connections, which require manual intervention by IT staff to make changes. This makes it hard to scale and also keeps the process of virtualizing servers from attaining optimal flexibility. I/O solutions can alleviate this by virtualizing the connections between server NICs or HBAs and their associated switches.

But let's loop back to the company. 3Leaf provides ASICs, which lay the foundation for addressing this problem. The Santa Clara-based company is headed up by B.V. Jagadeesh, and Intel Capital is one of its venture partners. In a nutshell, the V-8000 Virtual I/O Server enables configurable "soft connections" between servers and network and storage switches. Recently the company announced what it calls the Virtual Compute Environment, its roadmap for a fully virtualized x86 data center infrastructure. Memory and CPU products are forthcoming.

3Leaf claims that the V-8000 reduces the number of NICs and HBAs by up to 85 percent and the number of cables by up to 70 percent, certainly an interesting value proposition.

Before I close, let me just briefly mention that, going forward, as we talk to this company and others, we'll be digging a little deeper into these kinds of improvement metrics to help readers get a better handle on the types of calculations that support them. As we do this, I hope you'll share any success stories (or challenges) with us to keep it real. A few reality checks here and there couldn't hurt, right? Thanks and stay tuned.

Posted by Tom Valovic on 04/29/2008 at 12:49 PM


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