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VirtenSys I/O virtualization switches hit the channel

Dave Raffo, Senior News Director
VirtenSys Ltd. jumped into the I/O virtualization switch space today, bringing out two PCI Express (PCIe) devices that can consolidate network and storage connectivity devices.

VirtenSys is making two models

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of its VIO 4000 switch generally available for channel partners. The VIO 4001 is a diskless switch that has 16 server ports and supports Ethernet and Fibre Channel virtualization. The VIO 4008-HDD adds support for direct-attached storage (DAS) with LSI Corp. MegaRAID controllers for SAS/SATA drives. VirtenSys also has a switch module for blade servers that CEO Ahmet Houssein says will begin shipping early next year through an OEM deal with a major server vendor. Houssein says value-added distributor (VAD) Promark Technology is the largest channel partner to sign up with VirtenSys.

VirtenSys is among a handful of vendors that have sprung up the past few years to launch I/O virtualization switches. Others include Xsigo Systems and NextIO, with Aprius believed to be working on a similar product. Xsigo uses InfiniBand to connect to Ethernet and FC modules in its I/O Director, while VirtenSys and the others are PCIe--based.

I/O virtualization products separate I/O resources from the server and consolidate them onto a switch, where the I/O is pooled for better utilization while appearing to the server software as the original I/O devices. Sharing the I/O removes the need for giving each server dedicated physical adapters, cables, network ports and disk. The goal is to reduce I/O bottlenecks and make I/O devices easier to manage by reducing the number of adapters, switches and cables in the data center.

In VirtenSys' case, VIO 4000 switches can connect to servers though QLogic Corp. Fibre Channel HBAs, Intel Corp. and Neterion 10 Gigabit Ethernet NICs and LSI's MegaRAID SAS/SATA controllers.

"We take the HBA, RAID card and CNIC [converged NIC] and converge them into a single switch; then we reflect back into every server a physical image of that adapter," Houssein said. "The server believes it has the same adapter as before, but they're all converged inside the switch."

Houssein says VirtenSys switches will also support Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) adapters from Intel and others as that protocol gains popularity.

"FCoE is just another I/O resource from our perspective," Houssein said. "It's just another NIC for us. When the next-gen CNIC comes along, you can put it into our switch."

StorageIO Group analyst Greg Schulz says VirtenSys' use of common adapters makes it a good fit for channel and OEM partners.

"A couple other I/O virtualization products were extremely proprietary," he said. "For instance, Xsigo uses an InfiniBand adapter. With VirtenSys, you install industry-standard cards, and its shared chassis plugs into the industry-standard servers or blade servers. It lends itself to being OEMed, channel-ized, set up to be rolled out and to be packaged."

That approach means VirtenSys will have to expand its partner base for widespread adoption, Schulz says.

Houssein says partners will set pricing for VirtenSys I/O virtualization switches, but he maintains they will lower data center costs by reducing devices and cabling for SANs and LANs. VirtenSys, spun out of storage systems vendor Xyratex in 2005, has $40 million in venture capitalist funding after closing a $16 million round earlier this month.


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