It's no secret that the promise of virtualization is limited by the amount of traffic that can be handled by the physical server's host bus adapter (HBA) at any given time. Loading up on virtual partitions isn't very helpful if the data they require can't move from place to place.
Virtual I/O technology has been widely touted as the solution to this quandary, but here's what most of you might not realize: current solutions can only offer limited help because the silicon that drives them can process only one data channel at a time. Techniques like data stacking and queuing offer the illusion of multiple virtual I/Os, but at the expense of application latency and less-than-optimal network performance.
Now, Neterion Inc. has what it calls a breakthrough solution in the form of the X3100 10 GbE adapter, the first to employ the single-root I/O virtualization (SR-IOV) standard developed by the PCI-SIG.
I had a chance to chat with Neterion CEO David Zabrowski recently, and this is how he explained it:
"We've basically divided the physical I/O adapter into many I/O paths inside the silicon. The typical NIC has one chunk of silicon that does all the processing. With multiple paths of silicon laid down side by side, each application is attached to a physically separate I/O channel. As you add applications, there is no performance disruption because you can just add them to the physical links inside the silicon."
Zabrowski added that a single X3100 holds 17 paths, which corresponds to one path each for a four-core/four-socket CPU plus one management lane.
By moving I/O virtualization onto silicon, Neterion should be able to increase the number of applications that can be hosted on a single server (Zabrowski estimates a 2X-4X improvement) and do it more cheaply than current system-level solutions. He says:
"The lowest fundamental cost is silicon. The trick is making it happen. By definition, this will be the lowest cost and highest performance way of deploying virtual environments."
Among the initial beneficiaries of Neterion's solution are Fujitsu, HP, IBM and Sun, all of whom already have a working relationship with Neterion for HBAs and other technologies designed to wire servers to high-speed networks. VMware users also stand to gain as the X3100 already supports the NetQueue format on the ESX Server 3.5.
Neterion isn't the only company looking to push advanced chip-level networking solutions. Last week, we highlighted plans for SR-IOV-based PCI links from ServerEngines and NetXen.
Cheaper and faster; it sounds like a network architects dream.