Meet Xsigo and I/O Virtualization

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2007-09-12

Meet Xsigo and I/O Virtualization

SAN FRANCISCO—Xsigo Systems might look like just another IT company with a strange, unpronounceable name, but it stands a good chance of becoming well known in data center circles.

The company, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., which spent three years in R&D, officially launched itself and a product line here at VMworld Sept. 11. It then met the press Sept. 12 to explain three things: what it makes, why it matters to the data center, and how the company name is pronounced (phonetically, its simply See-go).

Xsigos main product is a $30,000 data center box appliance called VP780 I/O Director, which the company insists will open up the heretofore hardly touched world of I/O to data centers.

I/O Director uses specialized processors and Infiniband connectivity to overcome the limitations of regular server I/O by virtualizing the flow of data through a system. It consolidates cabling and replaces multiple physical network and storage interfaces (network interface cards and host bus adapters) with virtual resources that appear to applications and operating systems exactly as their physical counterparts.

To read about Rackable Appliances plan to smooth out storage I/O problems, click here.

I/O Director has a foundation of purpose-built silicon designed to streamline the management of complex I/O resource mappings. Traditional server I/O employs physical interfaces with fixed identities that are "mapped" to storage and network resources. Because these mappings are time consuming to change, applications become locked to specific devices, thus impacting agility and overall resource utilization.

StorageIO Group, located in Minneapolis, Minn., is a leading researcher on storage I/O technologies. The company reports that I/O performance issues are a growing concern for data center operations teams by creating both direct and indirect problems.

Front-line problems include system and application slowdowns, which cause sluggish response times and availability issues. Indirect impacts include the need for additional IT staff to troubleshoot, analyze, re-configure and react to application delays and service disruptions.

Xsigo is disruptive. Replacing HBAs and physical network interfaces is a radical idea that will not be welcomed by companies such as Cisco, Brocade, Emulex, Adaptec, AMCC and others whose livelihood is the server and storage system infrastructure business.

"At every juncture in the development of IT systems, the bottleneck for overall production moves to a new place as new ideas move into the data center," Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers venture capitalist Ray Lane, a Xsigo board member and former Oracle president, told a group of journalists and analysts here at the W Hotel.

"Virtualization has opened up the possibilities for much better execution in the data center. However, even though you might have great processors and efficiencies in other areas, if the data doesnt move quickly enough form one point to another, you still have a bottleneck. Xsigo can make I/O work better, and were the only ones addressing it. Were saying that we can save companies a lot of money."

Lane said that Xsigos I/O Director is estimated to save large enterprises 50 percent to 80 percent on capital and operational costs in data center environments. The company is currently aiming most of its marketing and sales efforts toward the Fortune 1000.

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Meet Xsigo and I

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"This is such a no-brainer for everybody we talk to," Lane said. "We tell them theyll save half their capex [capital expenditure] costs and maybe up to 80 percent on opex [operational expenditure] costs, and theyre not about to turn that down."

Xsigo enhances virtual machine deployments by providing scalable connectivity and granular management to address virtual machine performance and security issues. It also features open systems interoperability and a modular design for compatibility with multi-vendor servers, blade systems, networking and storage. This eliminates vendor lock-in and provides the ability to capitalize on future industry advancements, CEO Ashok Krishnamurthi told eWEEK.

"Server I/O technologies have changed little in the past 20 years. Virtualization technologies already deliver benefits to server and storage managers, but I/O management remains cumbersome and inefficient," Krishnamurthi said. "The Xsigo I/O Director completes the vision of utility computing by allowing servers to be I/O-personality independent."

Unlike the physical connectivity of HBAs and NICs, virtual I/O resources can be deployed on-the-fly in response to changing requirements, thus eliminating performance bottlenecks. For security, Xsigos I/O Director can associate virtual I/O with specific virtual machines and can be migrated along with virtual machines to maintain secure access to network and storage resources. Integrated quality of service capabilities permit fine-grained control of performance to help meet specific service level agreements, Lane said.

"Its like having a great car, like a Ferrari, but having to drive only 40 mph because you dont have an autobahn—or Highway 101—to run it on," said Xsigo board member and current VC Vinod Khosla, one of the four founders of Sun Microsystems. "Likewise, you might have great components in a data center, but you need the road—fast I/O—to run it."

Current server I/O architecture significantly drives up cost and complexity in the data center, said John Humphreys, program vice president of IDCs Enterprise Virtualization research and moderator of the Sept. 12 Xsigo presentation.

"As virtualization is already changing server and storage best practices, its logical to extend this to I/O resources," Humphreys said. "Now Xsigo offers a compelling solution that delivers I/O virtualization. We believe that solutions like this will enable greater flexibility and change the way organizations deliver IT services."

Xsigo has financial backing from VC firms that include Kleiner Perkins, Khosla Ventures, Greylock Partners, and Juniper Networks. Xsigos board members include Lane, Khosla and Mark Leslie, founding chairman and CEO of Veritas Software.

I/O Director is available now and sold directly by Xsigo Systems in the United States. It is also available from Xsigo business partners in the UK, Germany, Japan, Korea, Greater China, and Australia. Prices start at $30,000.

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