Xsigo Challenging Data Center Giants With Virtualized Server Fabric

Xsigo Server Fabric, which was officially released last week, essentially turns I/O Director -- Xsigo's main hardware product -- into a switch for managing virtual machines, enabling one-click network connections that connect a data center's virtual machines to other data center resources such as servers, storage and other virtual machines.

That capability, Xsigo says, allows cloud services to be brought to market 10 times as fast at a 50 percent lower cost of operation, because the management of a company's data center infrastructure is that much easier.

In other words, instead of a virtual machine needing to communicate with multiple points -- a network interface card, fed to an Ethernet switch, up to a core switch, say -- Xsigo Server Fabric takes care of all that communication, and IT managers can perform in minutes tasks that would normally take multiple teams many hours or several days to complete.

Architecturally, it's also a big difference from data center fabrics released by Cisco, Juniper and Brocade, because those data center stalwarts use traditional switches and ports to enable their management fabrics, Xsigo argues.

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"We provide a much better answer: great performance and less cost," said Jon Toor, Xsigo's vice president of marketing. "We sit in between the servers and the networks and storage. In the data center, if you were to look at a rack of servers, we would sit on top of that rack, and connect to all the servers in that rack but also into the networks and the storage. We are doing things in our software that you'd typically do in hardware."

As more enterprises embrace virtualization as an efficiency technology for data centers, Toor said, there's at least one new problem emerging: managing server to server communication.

"You end up with all these virtual machines running in parts," Toor said. "That's because the traditional network was just not designed to provide that. But you can now configure these connections between virtual machines without touching the VLANs, or the production network, or the other pieces of the environment. This is a much simpler way to rationalize who's doing what in the data center."

Xsigo Server Fabric is technically several products working in concert: Xsigo's I/O Director and XMS Management Software with a software upgrade package titled SFS 1.0 Server Fabric Suite, which includes host drivers, a management software plug-in, and operating software. It works with any x86-based server, blade or rackmount, which allows them to cover the majority of where virtualization in data centers is headed, Toor said.

SFS 1.0 will be available starting in December, and will be licensed at $1,000 per physical host.

Founded in 2004 and based in San Jose, Xsigo sells 100 percent through channel partners and has begun to attract heavy hitter VARs who already sell data center technologies for the market's major vendors, from HP and Dell to Cisco and Brocade. Xsigo Server Fabric can enable Ethernet and Fibre Channel connections at speeds up to 40 Gbps per second, and environments can be scaled to 1,000 physical hosts and tens of thousands of virtual connections, according to the company.

Xsigo Server Fabric is fully interoperable with core networking products from Cisco, Brocade, Juniper and other major vendors, and Toor said many of Xsigo's 50-or-so U.S.-based partners also have VMware and other virtualization-friendly backgrounds, too.

It's a value-add sale for VARs that already make good money on data center optimization, Toor said, and also allows them an upsell or return-sell opportunity to add more Xsigo I/O modules if customers need them.

Partners are starting to notice Xsigo. A C-level executive at a major national solution provider said his company started engaging with Xsigo a year ago and their products perform as advertised.

"I think Cisco is really on to something with this whole UCS and the single point of management and aggregation of all this networking I/O. We love that," said the partner, who asked not to be identified because it is in the midst of major Cisco-, Dell- and HP-led server deals. "But we can't always offer that to every customer because every customer isn't going to be a UCS customer. Xsigo gives us some advantages in a lot of these situations."

The partner said a Xsigo solution wouldn't necessarily be worthwhile for businesses with fewer than 30 servers or 50 virtual machines, but for large midmarket and enterprise-level deployments, it's ideal. When he's able to show the Xsigo hardware's capabilities, the partner said, it usually gets customers interested in what else they can optimize in their data center environments.

"The impetus to get Xsigo in an environment is always to solve something specific," said the partner. "The customer says, 'I have a problem with my networking, or my servers,' and it's always something where Xsigo is a disruptive element to solve that."