Xsigo Simplifies Connecting VMs To Network Resources

I/O Director hardware now connects virtual machines to any other resource on the network, including other VMs, right inside the Xsigo box--a big timesaver.
Xsigo has augmented the capability of its I/O Director hardware to supply drag-and-drop management of the networking connections for virtual machines as they seek to communicate with each other.

In some cases, that capability will tend to put network creation and configuration in the same category as virtual machine creation--able to be accomplished in a few minutes. That is seldom the case today, as virtual machines are quickly generated, then wait for a network administrator to supply the right network connections for their purpose.

Xsigo has specialized in pulling converged network and storage traffic off the server host and into I/O Director, an adjacent box that separates Ethernet traffic from SAN or Fibre Channel storage and moves each component to its correct networking device. In its latest iteration, Xsigo Server Fabric, announced Monday, I/O Director becomes a core switch for virtual machines. The network traffic that they generate, if they want to talk to each other, need go no further, said Jon Toor, VP of marketing, in an interview.

Normally, a virtual machine's attempt to communicate with another virtual machine must go out through a network interface card on the host to an Ethernet switch on the rack, up to an aggregator switch at the end of the rack's row, and up further to a core switch. There it may return to the same or another host, in some cases, by the same route--just to talk to another virtual machine.

I/O Director previously was able to identify a needed network interface card or host bus adapter by traffic flowing from a particular virtual machine. It could subdivide a single piece of network interface hardware into multiple virtual units. A standard 10-Gb Ethernet card, for example, can serve as an interface to the communications network or to a Fibre Channel storage device, or switch back and forth between the two. I/O Director can also divide the card's capacity for the two to operate simultaneously as virtualized I/O.

With the added capability of Xsigo Server Fabric, I/O Director can connect a virtual machine to a database server, Web server, or application server through a drag-and-drop operation in the I/O Director's management interface. Such operations previously required a network administrator to map a path and assign IP addresses for the virtual machine, a process that might take two days or more before it was completed. Xsigo Server Fabric provides a network topology map pinpointing other virtual servers and networking devices and allowing I/O Director to make connections through its own internal switching capabilities, Toor said.

Xsigo Server Fabric includes a driver located on each virtual machine host. All hosts need to be connected to an I/O Director. By adding switch extenders, 250 hosts may be connected to each I/O Director; four I/O Directors, paired with a matching I/O Director for redundancy, can provide network and storage paths for up to 1,000 virtualized hosts.

Such a switching fabric is an asset in virtualized environments because it allows virtual machines to be moved from one host to another, with say, 4 GBs of data copied in the process, more quickly. Toor claimed such a VMotion move might occur 19 times faster. It would also allow a virtual machine's query to a database server to be executed more quickly than over the traditional layered Ethernet network. Toor said internal tests showed a 12X performance improvement.

"The more effectively the server fabric operates, the more virtual machines you can run per host," said Toor.

There is of course a price to pay. I/O Director's base price is $22,500 and units typically sell for $25,000 to $45,000, depending on the type of network interface cards or other devices that it ships with. In addition, Xsigo charges $1,000 for each virtualized host connected to the I/O Director via the Xsigo Server Fabric. Xsigo points out its two Infiniband connectors between I/O Director and each host replace a much higher number of cables in other virtualization networking schemes.

Xsigo is a venture-backed firm founded in 2004 in San Jose, Calif., to exploit a booming virtualization market created by VMware. It ignored the competition to virtualize host servers playing out among VMware, Microsoft, and Citrix Systems, and sought instead to solve the virtualized server I/O problem.

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