Neterion: Adapters fix hypervisor performance problems

Neterion: Adapters fix hypervisor performance problems

I/O virtualization provides more flexible use of virtual machines

Neterion has built new 10 Gigabit Ethernet adapters with support for emerging I/O virtualization standards that aim to improve the performance of applications running on virtual servers. The adapters also provide the isolation necessary to reboot one virtual machine without affecting the other virtual machines on a physical server.

Neterion's third-generation X3100 Series adapters, unveiled Monday at VMworld in Cannes, France, are the first to support the SR-IOV 1.0 industry standard for single-root I/O virtualization, which lets a single adapter act like multiple physical adapters within a virtualized server, according to Neterion.

The standard, developed by the PCI-SIG electronics industry consortium, will help prevent potential hardware and software problems that could arise when vendors build virtualization-enabled adapters that aren't compatible with each other, says analyst Nik Simpson of the Burton Group. Simpson expects more vendors to follow suit by building devices compliant with the SR-IOV standard.

"There's bound to be problems when you've got multiple companies doing adapter virtualization through nonstandard means," Simpson says. "Anything that involves standardization is good for customers and is good for the industry as a whole."

One common problem with server virtualization is that the hypervisor has to be involved in every I/O transaction, creating a bottleneck, according to Simpson. Neterion's new adapter and future ones that take advantage of the single-root standard will minimize the hypervisor's involvement, thus improving performance. Moreover, the ability to reboot a virtual machine without impacting the other virtual machines accessing a physical device "gives you a very flexible solution for virtualizing I/O," Simpson says. "It's going to become increasingly common."

Neterion is also supporting multiroot I/O virtualization, which is for blade servers, while single-root is for conventional servers. A proposed PCI-SIG standard on multiroot may be approved later this year.

When you load applications onto a server that doesn't use I/O virtualization, hypervisor-related bottlenecks can drag performance down as low as 1.8 gigabits, says Neterion President and CEO Dave Zabrowski. Applications can't access the network until they've received clearance by the hypervisor.

"Server virtualization absolutely kills your performance. With the I/O virtualization, we're actually giving it back," Zabrowski says. "You have all these applications queuing up, waiting for these resources to free up. With an I/O virtualized adapter, physically different lanes of traffic can access the network simultaneously."

By improving performance, Zabrowski believes I/O virtualization will expand the list of applications enterprises are willing to place on virtual servers. Businesses are typically wary of putting online transaction processing or any I/O-intensive application onto virtual servers, he says.

X3100 Series adapters will typically cost between US$500 and US$1,500 per server, though that price can go higher depending on the configuration.

Neterion has the top market share in the 10 Gigabit Ethernet adapter market, over rivals like Intel and Chelsio. Neterion, formerly known as S2IO, built its market share through OEM agreements with vendors such as IBM, HP, EMC, Hitachi, Sun and Fujitsu, which use Neterion technology in their own 10 Gigabit Ethernet products, according to Zabrowski.

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