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I/O virtualization software eases network traffic

Posted: 01 Nov 2006 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:NetxXen? I/O virtualization? NetSlice? network interface cards? NICs?

NetXen Inc., the Ethernet accelerator chip and board company that introduced the "intelligent NIC" line of network cards in March, is offering the first of several planned free software packages for the cards. NetSlice performs I/O virtualization by bypassing the virtual-machine monitors present in many server OS suites.

The company elected to begin with I/O virtualization because I/O is becoming a primary bottleneck in high-performance server clusters.

Virtualization allows multiple system images to exist in one server hardware system, and is often promoted as a means of optimizing server and storage performance. But virtualization also plays a role in cases where the data center interacts with the public network, for example, in establishing service-level agreements between carriers, said Vik Karvat, senior director of marketing at NetXen. The performance advantages in power, rack space and cooling for server banks within an enterprise can be extended across the WAN if virtualization is used to its full extent.

Software shims, such as the open-source Xen, VMware and Microsoft VS, monitor resources so that multiple guest operating systems can reside within one server. The virtual-machine monitors or "hypervisors" allocate resources among virtual machines and pass I/O requests to physical device drivers.

New virtualization tools from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices introduced early this year improve microprocessor performance and let guest operating systems believe they are running in "ring zero" mode. But the tools do little to speed I/O requests, which can create bottlenecks when 10GbE channels are used. Karvat said peripheral chipset manufacturers are trying to solve the problem by developing dedicated I/O memory-management units, but they will not be sampling until 2007 or 2008.

NetXen's answer with NetSlice was to create a software package that functions as a virtual switch. Up to 1,024 virtual-network interface cards can be created, managed independently per virtual machine. Each virtual NIC supports multiple transmit and receive queues, and multiple direct memory access engines allow I/O remapping. The software can support multiple unicast and multicast media-access control addresses.

No TCP offload board manufacturer is offering a virtual-machine monitor remapper, Karvat said, so NetXen should be able to show continued I/O advantages over both chip- and board-level competitors. The software is currently shipping for existing intelligent NIC customers.

According to Karvat, software suites covering such areas as security and full-protocol stack bypass will be introduced in 2007.

- Loring Wirbel
EE Times




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