I/O, I/O, Its off to Virtual Work and VMworld I Go (or went)

September 5, 2009 – 12:20 pm

Ok, so I should have used that intro last week before heading off to VMworld in San Francisco instead of after the fact.

Think of it as a high latency title or intro, kind of like attaching a fast SSD to a slow, high latency storage controller, or a fast server attached to a slow network, or fast network with slow storage and servers, it is what it is.

I/O virtualization (IOV), Virtual I/O (VIO) along with I/O and networking convergence have been getting more and more attention lately, particularly on the convergence front. In fact one might conclude that it is trendy to all of a sudden to be on the IOV, VIO and convergence bandwagon given how clouds, soa and SaaS hype are being challenged, perhaps even turning to storm clouds?

Lets get back on track, or in the case of the past week, get back in the car, get back in the plane, get back into the virtual office and what it all has to do with Virtual I/O and VMworld.

The convergence game has at its center Brocade emanating from the data center and storage centric I/O corner challenging Cisco hailing from the MAN, WAN, LAN general networking corner.

Granted both vendors have dabbled with success in each others corners or areas of focus in the past. For example, Brocade as via acquisitions (McData+Nishan+CNT+INRANGE among others) a diverse and capable stable of local and long distance SAN connectivity and channel extension for mainframe and open systems supporting data replication, remote tape and wide area clustering. Not to mention deep bench experience with the technologies, protocols and partners solutions for LAN, MAN (xWDM), WAN (iFCP, FCIP, etc) and even FAN (file area networking aka NAS) along with iSCSI in addition to Fibre Channel and FICON solutions.

Disclosure: Here’s another plug ;) Learn more about SANs, LANs, MANs, WANs, POTs, PANs and related technologies and techniques in my book “Resilient Storage NetworksDesigning Flexible Scalable Data Infrastructures" (Elsevier).

Cisco not to be outdone has a background in the LAN, MAN, WAN space directly, or similar to Brocade via partnerships with product and experience and depth. In fact while many of my former INRANGE and CNT associates ended up at Brocade via McData or in-directly, some ended up at Cisco. While Cisco is known for general networking, the past several years they have gone from zero to being successful in the Fibre Channel and yes, even the FICON mainframe space while like Brocade (HBAs) dabbling in other areas like servers and storage not to mention consumer products.

What does this have to do with IOV and VIO, let alone VMworld and my virtual office, hang on, hold that thought for a moment, lets get the convergence aspect out of the way first.

On the I/O and networking convergence (e.g. Fibre Channel over Ethernet – FCoE) scene both Brocade (Converged Enhanced Ethernet-CEE) and Cisco (Data Center Ethernet – DCE) along with their partners are rallying around each others camps. This is similar to how a pair of prize fighters maneuvers in advance of a match including plenty of trash talk, hype and all that goes with it. Brocade and Cisco throwing mud balls (or spam) at each other, or having someone else do it is nothing new, however in the past each has had their core areas of focus coming from different tenets in some cases selling to different people in an IT environment or those in VAR and partner organizations. Brocade and Cisco are not alone nor is the I/O networking convergence game the only one in play as it is being complimented by the IOV and VIO technologies addressing different value propositions in IT data centers.

Now on to the IOV and VIO aspect along with VMworld.

For those of you that attended VMworld and managed to get outside of session rooms, or media/analyst briefing or reeducation rooms, or out of partner and advisory board meetings walking the expo hall show floor, there was the usual sea of vendors and technology. There were the servers (physical and virtual), storage (physical and virtual), terminals, displays and other hardware, I/O and networking, data protection, security, cloud and managed services, development and visualization tools, infrastructure resource management (IRM) software tools, manufactures and VARs, consulting firms and even some analysts with booths selling their wares among others.

Likewise, in the onsite physical data center to support the virtual environment, there were servers, storage, networking, cabling and associated hardware along with applicable software and tucked away in all of that, there were also some converged I/O and networking, and, IOV technologies.

Yes, IOV, VIO and I/O networking convergence were at VMworld in force, just ask Jon Torr of Xsigo who was beaming like a proud papa wanting to tell anyone who would listen that his wares were part of the VMworld data center (Disclosure: Thanks for the T-Shirt).

Virtensys had their wares on display with Bob Nappa more than happy to show the technology beyond an UhiGui demo including how their solution includes disk drives and an LSI MegaRAID adapter to support VM boot while leveraging off-the shelf or existing PCIe adapters (SAS, FC, FCoE, Ethernet, SATA, etc.) while allowing adapter sharing across servers, not to mention, they won best new technology at VMworld award.

NextIO who is involved in the IOV / VIO game was there along with convergence vendors Brocade, Cisco, Qlogic and Emulex among others. Rest assured, there are many other vendors and VARs in the VIO and IOV game either still in stealth, semi-stealth or having recently launched.

IOV and VIO are complimentary to I/O and networking convergence in that solutions like those from Aprius, Virtensys, Xsigo, NextIO and others. While they sound similar, and in fact there is confusion as to if Fibre Channel N_Port Virtual ID (FC_NPVID) and VMware virtual adapters are IOV and VIO vs. solutions that are focused on PCIe device/resource extension and sharing.

Another point of confusion around I/O virtualization and virtual I/O are blade system or blade center connectivity solutions such as HP Virtual Connect or IBM Fabric Manger not to mention those form Engenera add confusion to the equation. Some of the buzzwords that you will be hearing and reading more about include PCIe Single Root IOV (SR-IOV) and Multi-Root IOV (MR-IOV). Think of it this way, within VMware you have virtual adapters, and Fibre Channel Virtualization N_Port IDs for LUN mapping/masking, zone management and other tasks.

IOV enables localized sharing of physical adapters across different physical servers (blades or chassis) with distances measured in a few meters; after all, it’s the PCIe bus that is being extended. Thus, it is not a replacement for longer distance in the data center solutions such as FCoE or even SAS for that matter, thus they are complimentary, or at least should be considered complimentary.

The following are some links to previous articles and related material including an excerpt (yes, another plug ;)) from chapter 9 “Networking with you servers and storage” of new book “The Green and Virtual Data Center” (CRC). Speaking of virtual and physical, “The Green and Virtual Data Center” (CRC) was on sale at the physical VMworld book store this week, as well as at the virtual book stores including Amazon.com

The Green and Virtual Data Center

The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC) on book shelves at VMworld Book Store

Links to some IOV, VIO and I/O networking convergence pieces among others, as well as news coverage, comments and interviews can be found here and here with StorageIOblog posts that may be of interest found here and here.

SearchSystemChannel: Comparing I/O virtualization and virtual I/O benefits – August 2009

Enterprise Storage Forum: I/O, I/O, It’s Off to Virtual Work We Go – December 2007

Byte and Switch: I/O, I/O, It’s Off to Virtual Work We Go (Book Chapter Excerpt) – April 2009

Thus I went to VMworld in San Francisco this past week as much of the work I do is involved with convergence similar to my background, that is, servers, storage, I/O networking, hardware, software, virtualization, data protection, performance and capacity planning.

As to the virtual work, well, I spent some time on airplanes this week which as is often the case, my virtual office, granted it was real work that had to be done, however I also had a chance to meet up with some fellow tweeters at a tweet up Tuesday evening before getting back in a plane in my virtual office.

Now, I/O, I/O, its back to real work I go at Server and StorageIO , kind of rhymes doesnt it!

I/O, I/O, Its off to Virtual Work and VMworld I Go (or went)