Q&A: I/O Virtualization and Best Practices

We examine the benefits of I/O virtualization and offer best practices to achieve high-performance I/O.

Virtualization isn’t just for servers. What is I/O virtualization, what are the benefits, and what best practices can help you avoid common IT mistakes and achieve the highest I/O performance levels? For perspective, we contacted Steve Knodl, director of product management for NextIO, a company that specializes in simplifying complex server I/O.

Enterprise Strategies: The term “I/O virtualization” has been tossed around over the past few years. How do you define it?

Steve Knodl: In the market today, most virtualization is based on software that leverages Moore’s Law in order to provide good performance. At NextIO, we define I/O virtualization at the server level in hardware where it provides physical access to the Storage Area Network and Ethernet Network. At this level, leveraging industry standard PCI Express virtualization, users are able to transparently use existing device drivers and failover mechanisms without new qualification cycles.

Is cost the main reason to adopt I/O virtualization/consolidation technology? What other factors come into play?

Due to I/O consolidation, lowered cost from reducing the number of overprovisioned components is a tremendous benefit. This also improves power efficiency as well as cooling capabilities from a reduction in cables blocking airflow. Once up and operating, IOV systems are easier to manage because configuration changes are made using software tools rather than time-consuming and error-prone, hands-on hardware changes.

What are some of the common mistakes IT makes in trying to virtualize and consolidate I/O?

The biggest mistake is thinking of the transition as simply moving I/O adapters external to the server chassis. Users should carefully consider their I/O bandwidth requirements so they don’t over purchase connectivity and add capacity and cabling before they need it.

What best practices can help ensure your I/O architecture will avoid these mistakes and achieve high performance?

IT teams should leverage a variety of emerging tools and techniques to benchmark their current I/O traffic and ensure they can scale to meet future requirements. Whenever possible, tools should be used to monitor the existing servers’ traffic patterns to establish current needs with a healthy allowance for growth of both server and storage traffic.

The greening of data centers continues to be an important technology trend. How does I/O virtualization help?

Consolidating and reducing components through an IOV deployment optimizes server utilization and directly reduces power requirements. Also, some additional power and cooling savings can be gained if the IOV deployment enables a reduction in server form factor from 4U to 2U or 2U to 1U.

What other data center trends are you seeing that increase the need for I/O virtualization?

VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) is a compelling new trend. The tie-in with I/O virtualization is that many companies also have virtual servers and traditional technology with one OS per server. IOV acts as a bridge between all three so companies can mix and match as necessary. IOV also offers flexibility for cloud vendors that must adapt to any type of software/hardware trend that comes along. IOV helps them deploy new combinations of technology without having to pre-commit to an architecture.

Where do you see virtualization headed for enterprises? What role will I/O solutions play in the future?

Enterprises are a great fit for virtualization. They typically have multiple I/O fabrics and multiple Ethernet connections per server, which have become a critical part of their infrastructure. IOV helps enterprises reduce costs by allowing them to maintain their architecture while simplifying their cabling and moving to a more effective software-based approach to management.

What products or services does NextIO offer for I/O virtualization?

NextIO offers vNET I/O Maestro, a rack-level appliance that simplifies the deployment and management of complex server I/O by consolidating and virtualizing I/O resources. vNET removes layers of data center complexities often found in traditional server I/O deployments to maximize the value, productivity and efficiencies of complex server I/O. The appliance uses PCI Express virtualization to consolidate I/O from up to 30 servers, and users can choose any mix of 10Gb Ethernet and 8Gb Fibre Channel I/O which can be assigned to any of the servers via a simple graphical user interface.

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