Ethernet as a Virtual I/O Transport

Michael Vizard

The rise of virtualization continues to put more pressure than ever on shared storage resources. Basically, more servers, both virtual and physical, are competing for more bandwidth than ever, resulting in I/O bottlenecks.

The industry as a whole is basically proposing multiple solutions to the problem, starting with throwing more bandwidth at the problem in the form of servers and storage systems that support 10 Gigabit and 40 Gigabit Ethernet with the storage management system holding most of the intelligence in terms of managing the overall I/O flow.

But at Interop this week, Aprius is going to demonstrate a different approach to providing virtual I/O over Ethernet using a prototype of a server gateway that essentially pushes much of the functionality associated with the PCI Express bus out of the server, said Craig Thompson, Aprius vice president of product marketing.

The Aprius server gateway is an attempt to induce systems manufacturers to take another look at an approach to storage that creates virtual pools of storage across heterogeneous storage systems without requiring any implementation of proprietary storage virtualization software.

Thompson argues that the industry in bits and pieces is already moving toward virtual I/O at the infrastructure level in terms of virtual adapters and host bus adapters. At Interop, Aprius is trying to accelerate that movement with a new approach to virtual I/O that not only allows virtual machines to be more mobile, but eliminates the storage I/O bottleneck that is increasingly plaguing implementations of high-density servers.

It remains to be seen how the industry will react to the Aprius approach to managing virtual I/O across an Ethernet fabric of servers and storage systems. But one thing that is for sure is that the industry is already headed in this general direction one way or another.

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Apr 29, 2010 7:04 PM Ken Oestreich Ken Oestreich  says:
Mike - good observations. Vendors such as Aprius, Xsigo, and others are all taking different approaches to Virtual I/O. The merits of Virtual I/O are many... but best when not used "a la carte". We ourselves (Egenera) take a fully _software-based_ approach virtualizing I/O onto standard Ethernet, and we then embed that functionality in higher-level management tools. Think: Providing HA or DR by cloning server profiles when failures are detected, and then re-booting SW on the new server. Or what about moving around virtual NICs and virtual HBAs whenever VMs get live-migrated. I think we'll be seeing more applications of I/O virtualization - and many larger vendors embedding this functionality into their converged infrastructure systems. ~ Ken Oestreich (Egenera) Reply

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