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Dell adds Xsigo I/O virtualization to servers

Dell will offer Xsigo's I/O Director on Dell PowerEdge servers and storage products, eliminating the problem of too-few physical I/O ports for virtualization.

Dell, says its new partnership with Xsigo will enable users to add I/O ports to PowerEdge servers on the fly and without the need for extra network interface cards.

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Dell Inc. will resell Xsigo Systems' I/O Director as an option for PowerEdge servers and storage products. The combination should make it easier to add the physical I/O ports often needed for virtualization, the companies said. Xsigo consolidates the I/O infrastructure and replaces physical network and storage interfaces (network interface cards, or NICs, and host bus adapters) with virtual I/O that can be managed from a single console.

With Xsigo, IT can add I/O ports across different vendor hardware in heterogeneous data centers without having to peel the skin off servers, said Joe Skorupa, a Gartner Inc. research vice president in networking. "You can simply add I/O from the shared Xsigo I/O device and never open the [server]," Skorupa said. "It brings a lot of flexibility to the data center."

Greater data center dynamism, fewer bottlenecks
To add speed and flexibility to his virtualized data center, Marvin Baker, the CEO of Baker Business Systems, a Medina, Ohio-based automotive repair Software as a Service provider, adopted Xsigo's I/O virtualization products for his six, dual-core Dell 2950 servers.

One user was sold on Xsigo's virtual networking technology because he can designate specific amounts of bandwidth to specific virtual machines.

Part of what sold Baker on Xsigo is that it offers 20 Gb of bandwidth and allows him to designate specific amounts of bandwidth to specific virtual machines (VMs), so each VM always has a predictable amount of bandwidth – guaranteed by Xsigo.

"We had eight NICS in each server (48 NICs in all), and that was workable, but it was a lot of cables, and each NIC was not configurable for an individual VM," Baker said. "We can now create as many virtual NICs as we want at whatever speeds we want for the VMs."

Now, with Xsigo, Baker said he can increase the number of VMs in his environment by about one-third without worrying about I/O bottlenecks. Using VMware virtualization, Baker now runs ESX on each of his six Dell servers to support about 500 users. By virtualizing the I/O, his internal infrastructure now runs at 10 Gigabit (Gb) speeds, whereas before, the networks ran at 1Gb, he said. "We are a small system integrator that does utility computing and hosting, so for our type of customers, [10 Gb] is super fast," Baker said.

The price for the Xsigo virtual I/O system (including the I/O Director hardware and software for each server) begins at around $30,000 and is worth it, Baker said. "We have seen a soft ROI; we were sensitive to future growth and speed, that's what we wanted and that's what we got," Baker said. "You would have major bottleneck issues if you used standard I/O for this; we would have needed 22,000 IOPS to sustain this infrastructure before using Xsigo."

But many users have a problem when they virtualize servers: They are no longer tying into one network, but now use many, and that requires large servers packed with physical NIC slots, according to Jon Toor, Xsigo's vice president of marketing.

"Those bigger boxes take up more space, are more expensive and cost more to cool. But when you virtualize the I/O, you don't need all of that stuff," Toor said. "You have the same level of guaranteed bandwidth with a virtual cable as you do with a physical one -- and the same connection isolation."

By eliminating the need for added NICs and the man-hours that go along with a complicated physical network, users scaling up their servers can realize a capital savings of up to 50% using Xsigo, Toor claimed.

Plus, Xsigo's system performance appears to be just as good as hardware-based networking, Skorupa said.

Dell uses Xsigo to gain on HP
Dell's partnership with Xsigo may result from competitive pressure from Hewlett-Packard, which offers I/O virtualization software called Cisco moving more toward the server side of things and HP and Dell coming out with networking products," Skorupa said. "It's coming down to the battle of who owns the data center."

Dell's decision to add Xsigo is wise, because Xsigo is an open standards-based product that is interoperable with most of the leading servers and storage platforms. The move will help Dell gain entry into heterogeneous data centers, according to Greg Schulz, an analyst and founder of the networking consultancy company StorageIO. Conversely, HP's Virtual Connect product is proprietary and works only with HP blade servers.

"Dell is providing alternatives to their customers both in the box or cabinet with their Egenera [PAN Manager]-based solutions, as well as inside and outside of the box with the Xsigo approach, which also eliminates the need for additional HBAs or BladeCenter Mezzanine cards while using a converged network interface," Schultz said. "Certainly the ability of a Xsigo solution to span heterogeneous storage, server and networking environments is a plus for those looking for improved 'line of sight" from VMs across different vendor technologies to virtual the connectivity and management paths."

The Xsigo system includes a box about the size of a 2U server that connects storage area network and LAN (with I/O Director), plus the software in each server.

Other companies that offer external I/O-based technologies include Next I/O and VirtenSys.

Users should note that installing Xsigo's products requires expertise, according to Baker. "It was quick to deploy but very technical; I have been in this industry for 20 years, and this stuff we do now is rocket science for our industry; it is all technical, and if you mess up one thing it won't work right," he said. Luckily, Xsigo made sure the deployment went smoothly, he said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer. And check out our Server Virtualization blog.

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