Monday Dec 17, 2012

Xsigo and Oracle's Storage

Xsigo, a virtual network infrastructure provider, has recently been acquired by Oracle. Following this acquisition, one might ask ourselves why it is important to Oracle and how Oracle's storage is going to benefit on the long term from this virtualized infrastructure layer.

Well, the first thing to understand is that Virtual Networking addresses both network and storage connectivity.

Oracle Virtual Networking, as the Xsigo technology is now called, connects any server to any network and storage, so this is not just about connecting servers to the Internet or Intranet. It is also for a large part connecting servers to NAS and SAN storage.

Connecting servers to storage has become increasingly complex in the past few years because of the strong emergence of virtualization at the Operating System level. 50% of enterprise workloads are now virtualized, up from 18% in 2009, resulting in a strong consolidation of various applications in a high density server footprint. At the same time, server I/O capability increased 8x in the last 8 years. All this has pushed IT administrators to multiply the number of I/O connections in the back-end of their physical servers, resulting in a messy and very hard to manage networking infrastructure.

Here is a typical view of a rack back-end when no virtual networking is used. We consider that today:

- 75% of users have ten or more Ethernet ports per server

- 85% of users have two or more SAN ports per server

- 58% have had to add connectivity to a server specifically for VMs

- 65% consider cable reduction a priority

The average is 12 or more ports per server, resulting in an extremely complex infrastructure to manage.

What Oracle wants to achieve with its Oracle Virtual Networking offering is pretty simple. The objective is to eliminate the complexity through a dramatic reduction of cabling between servers and storage/networks. It is also to provide a software based management system so that any server can be connected to any network or any storage, on demand, and without physical intervention on the infrastructure.

At the end of the day, the picture on the left shows what one wants to get for the back-end of customer's racks: just a couple of connections on each physical server to provide a simple, agile and fast network infrastructure for both storage and networking access.

This is exactly what the Oracle Virtual Networking solution does. It transforms a complex, error-prone, difficult to manage and expensive networking infrastructure into a simple, high performance and agile solution for the data center.

Practically speaking, and for the sake of simplicity, imagine that each server just hosts a minimal number of physical InfiniBand HCAs (Host Channel Adapter) with two links (for redundancy) onto the Oracle Fabric Interconnect director. Using the Oracle Fabric Manager software, you'll then be able to create virtual NICs and HBAs (called vNIC and vHBA) that will be seen by the servers as standard NICs and HBAs and associate them to networks and storage systems which are physically connected to the back-end of the director through standard Fibre Channel and Ethernet GbE/10GbE ports.

In addition to this incredibly simple "at-a-click" connectivity capability, the Oracle Virtual Networking solution offers powerful features such as network isolation, Quality of Service, advanced performance monitoring and non-disruptive reconfiguration, migration and scalability of networking infrastructure.

So let's go back now to our initial question: why is Oracle Virtual Networking especially important to Oracle's storage solutions? After all, one could connect any storage in the back-end of the Oracle Fabric Interconnect directors, right? The answer is pretty simple: since Oracle owns both the virtualized networking infrastructure and the storage (ZFS-SA, Pillar Axiom and tape), it is possible to imagine several ways in the future to add value when it comes to connect storage to a virtualized storage network: enhanced storage capabilities, converged management between storage and network, improved diagnostic capabilities and optimized integration resulting in higher performance and unique features/functions.

Of course, all this is not going to be done overnight, and future will tell us is which evolutions come first. But there is little doubt that the integration of Xsigo within Oracle is going to create opportunities for Oracle's storage!