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VMware integrates virtual HBAs

A partnership between VMware and startup XSigo gives VMware users a way to consolidate storage networks, as well as combine Fibre Channel and Ethernet while FCoE waits in the wings.

A partnership between VMware Inc. and Xsigo Systems Inc. will result in Xsigo's I/O virtualization product being...

integrated with ESX Server and its management software folded into VMware's Virtual Center GUI.

The integration will allow VMware users to consolidate connectivity between virtual servers and networked storage, and could even be an alternative to Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) in some environments.

Xsigo's I/O Director consists of a rack-mounted switch that takes the place of Ethernet NICs and FC HBAs in physical servers, connecting them in turn to the user's network or storage fabric in a consolidated physical footprint. The switch also allows users to change connectivity on the fly.

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Servers using Xsigo connect to it using a single InfiniBand cable, which supports up to 10 Gbps performance and can support FC or Ethernet traffic. The switch also allows hardware-controlled Quality of Service (QoS) for virtual machines residing on the physical server.

I/O Director is similar to Emulex Corp.'s Virtual HBA product, but the latter is an internally installed card compatible only with FC. It shares some commonalities with an I/O virtualization product from DataCore Software Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.'s VFrame. But while the DataCore and Cisco products also have other functions, the Xsigo device is focused only on I/O.

The integration was achieved through a VMware software development kit (SDK) released for the company's virtualization partners last year. Xsigo is the first to come up with an integrated product, but won't be the last, according to Burton Group analyst Chris Wolf. "I see this as the first of many [partnerships]—one of VMware's perceived weak points was the extensibility of Virtual Center," he said. "This is a step in the right direction, and I think you'll see more Virtual Center plug-ins going forward."

Combining FC and Ethernet, without waiting for a standards committee

According to storage analysts, Xsigo's approach could also be an early alternative to FCoE, which is still working its way through the T11 standards process. StorageIO founder Greg Schulz emailed, "For organizations that want to leverage the benefits of a converged network architecture…Xsigo…would be an approach…today while waiting for Data Center Ethernet, including Fibre Channel over Ethernet, to appear to support either block- or file-based storage access."

"This is a unique offering with VMware right now," Wolf said. Other companies offer I/O virtualization, but it's usually for blade server chassis. Companies such as Egenera, Wolf noted, are "working to make their products more widely available to rack-mounted servers, but they haven't gotten there yet."

However, the potential drawback to a unique offering from a startup, even when it's blessed by VMware, is whether or not it will be supported by operating system and storage hardware vendors. "SMBs using midrange arrays where hardware vendors aren't as assertive might find a lot of benefit in this at first," Wolf said. "But the problem for many users is that when you put something in the data path and don't have full support, it can make IT architects gun-shy."

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