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Cisco Bows Out of Infiniband; Appliances Join the Virtual World; Notes from Day 2 at VMworld

Day 2 at VMworld has come and gone and probably my biggest regret was that I had to miss this morning’s keynote by VMware’s new CEO, Paul Maritz. In reading through some other blogs this evening about the event and assuming Storagezilla called it right, it was a doozey essentially declaring open war on other operating systems.

In any case, my day was focused on catching up with a number of vendors to get some of the latest behind the scenes scoop in the storage world. In fact, as one walks into the exhibitor hall in VMworld, it is hard not to mistake this conference for a storage conference. HUGE booths from EMC, NetApp, Dell, NEC, Symantec and Emulex greet attendees as they enter the exhibitor hall. While I never did a formal count of how many storage vendors were exhibiting, it had to be fully half of those exhibiting were in some way connected to storage. Even TechTarget had its own booth tucked away at VMworld which I found slightly amusing considering it does its own set of conferences.

I started the day by meeting with Jon Toor from Xsigo Systems to catch up on what was going in its world. For those of you unfamiliar with Xsigo Systems, it offers an InfiniBand I/O Director that virtualizes server I/O. Its VP780 x2 I/O Director connects directly to servers via Infiniband but provides FC and Ethernet ports so users can keep their existing Ethernet and FC infrastructures in place.

Since Xsigo Systems had only released its first product in Q4 of 2007, I was curious to hear how far it had progressed not just in terms of market acceptance but if it was actually in production anywhere. Not only is it in production, an airline reservation system with stringent SLAs is already using it in its production environment. This is remarkable for a product that is less than a year out of GA to already have such a major win. While Toor could not disclose who it was, he did say the client migrated to this new InfiniBand infrastructure in well under six months.

This bodes extremely well for Xsigo Systems specifically and the introduction of InfiniBand into the data center in general because competing 10 Gb Ethernet is still a good year away (that is a best case scenario). Further, part of the reason Xsigo Systems won this account was because Cisco told the prospect that Cisco had halted its own internal project work on InfiniBand. This left Xsigo Systems as the only competitive solution that could provide an answer for this customer’s problems.

Another interesting tidbit of news I picked up was from a noontime conversation I had with Xiotech. Apparently they are winning some deals against Dell EqualLogic PS Series systems because of poor performance issues on these systems and replacing them with FC. Now I am not sure what the exact details are around these wins (old EqualLogic systems, customers mixing iSCSI traffic with normal network traffic, improperly configured systems, virtualizing multiple arrays) or their accuracy because everything I have heard about Dell EqualLogic in the past has been fairly positive. But needless to say this news surprised me as EqualLogic systems hold up pretty well under most normal conditions.

A final interesting note that I picked up from a presentation given by Jacob Hall from Wachovia on Monday at the IBTA Tech Forum and then again heard from a briefing I received from STORServer is what appears to be the start of trend of introducing server virtualization on appliances. In the former case, Wachovia wanted to virtualize the thousands of Wachovia desktops but could not justify virtualizing all of them and putting them on the data center floor.

So what he did instead was virtualize one in every four. Assuming I understood him correctly, he put one high powered PC in place of every four, connected monitors and keyboards to it and used VMware’s VDI to present four virtual desktops to the end-users. He did this using an appliance from a Canadian company (whose name he did not disclose). In so doing, he kept the costs out of his data center, reduced the amount of hardware and power his company needed and still met his end-users expectations.

STORServer announced something similar this week in its Sept 15 press release regarding its V-Series Data Protection Appliance. Normally STORserver just provides on Data Protection Appliance a self-contained, turnkey version of Tivoli Storage Manager (TSM) but if customers desired other STORserver products (archiving, CDP, etc), they would need to purchase other appliances with those features on it. But by now bundling VMware on its appliances, it can create different virtual machines on its appliance that hosts different applications.

While the possibilities of this new virtualization appliances are intriguing, companies need to keep in mind that this a new frontier for VMware and the licensing for these appliances has not yet caught up to the reality. STORserver’s VP of Business Development, Bob Antoniazzi, says that VMware normally only sells its virtualization license to the end-user, not the provider. These virtualization appliances change the model and VMware has not yet come out with a means to address it. However Antoniazzi didn’t seem to care. “We’re offering these appliances with VMware starting this week so this should help to put some pressure on VMware to figure the licensing issue out,” says Antoniazzi.


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