Virtualization, 10 GbE meet at VMworld 2010

At VMworld, 10 Gigabit Ethernet is touted as a complement to I/O-intensive virtual environments.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Data center infrastructure vendors hope to capture the imaginations of virtualization buyers with new wares based on 10 Gigabit Ethernet, a.k.a. 10 GbE.

At the W Hotel across from VMworld 2010 at the Moscone Center yesterday, I/O virtualization vendor Xsigo, which had backed the more niche Infiniband networking technology, led the charge with its new 10 GbE-based I/O Director.

Other vendors including Cisco Systems, Virtensys Ltd., and Broadcom Corp. also showed off new 10 GbE goods at VMworld itself or nearby this week. But, while 10 GbE technology seems to have come into its own, it is less clear whether these new products are relevant to a good chunk of VMware shops that have yet to upgrade their core networks to support 10 GbE technology.

"If you're not a big virtualization deployment, you really don't need 10 GbE," said Bob Plankers, a VMware administrator at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Plankers oversees about 30 VMware vSphere hosts each equipped with four 1 GbE cards.

"We're looking at 10 GbE, but one of the things that keeps us from having to do it is that we have a big Fibre Channel SAN … if we were doing iSCSI, we would already be at 10 GbE."

Still, the vendors did their best to drum up interest at or near VMworld.

At the standing-room-only Xsigo event, attendees watched venture capital luminaries John Doerr, Ray Lane and Vinod Khosla theatrically hit a Cisco punching bag with a Xsigo-branded boxing glove. (Lane, a managing partner at VC giant Kleiner, Perkins, Caufied & Byers, is on Xsigo's board. Doerr is a partner at KPCB and Khosla, a Xsigo investor, is also affiliated with the KPCB.)

Xsigo's leaders considered whether they were better off building their first products on Ethernet or Infiniband. "We debated whether we could build a product based on Ethernet, and decided we could not," Khosla told But the consensus seems to be that 10 GbE is now ready for prime time.

Back on the VMworld show floor, Cisco demonstrated its 10 GbE Virtual Integrated Card, formerly known as Palo. Available for Cisco's Unified Compute System (UCS) blade servers, Cisco's VIC connects virtual machines directly to a vNIC, providing native I/O performance without having to go through a VMware virtual switch, or vSwitch. With VMware vSphere 4.1, the VIC can now VMotion of virtual machines, thanks to specialized sillicon that hands off I/O processing back to the vSphere vSwitch, and takes it back after the VMotion has completed.

Then there is Virtensys, which like Xsigo added another model to its I/O virtualization offerings, the VIO-4004, consolidating and virtualizing network connectivity to a rack of servers and providing high I/O performance to "hard-to-virtualize" applications.

Connecting to servers using PCI Express extenders, the VIO-4004 virtualizes up to four Intel Ethernet X520 dual-port 10 GbE adapters, and creates up to 256 virtual network interface cards (NICs) that individual virtual machines can use to share up to 80 Gb/sec of aggregate I/O bandwidth. It is available immediately.

Broadcom announced support for VMware vSphere 4.1 on its 10 GbE and 1 GbE iSCSI host bus adapter (HBA), providing increased bandwidth to VMware virtual machines and freeing up I/O processing from the hypervisor. The company will demonstrate the new iSCSI HBA on Broadcom's NetXtreme II 10 GbE converged network interface controller (C-NIC) as well as its BCM57712 10 GbE C-NIC that supports SR-IOV technology.

Last but not least, Blade Network Technologies announced BLADE VMready 3.0 with Virtual Vision, software for automating, provisioning and securing virtual machines connected to the network using its portfolio of 10 GbE switches, including switches that ship with IBM BladeCenter, HP BladeSystem and the NEC SigmaBlade. With the new Virtual Vision feature, network switches can "see" virtual machines as they migrate between servers, the company said.

Check out all of our VMworld 2010 conference coverage here.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Alex Barrett, News Director at on twitter.

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