Storage highlights from Interop 2010

By Dave Simpson

April 29, 2010 – A number of vendors used this week's Interop show in Las Vegas as a stage to debut storage networking products, including Emulex, Mellanox, Voltaire, Ixia, Vizioncore and virtual I/O startup Aprius. Here's a quick recap.

Emulex branched out from its hardware roots by introducing OneCommand Vision software for I/O monitoring and traffic analysis of Fibre Channel SANs. To a degree, OneCommand Vision will compete with SAN monitoring tools from vendors such as Akorri (BalancePoint), NetApp (SANscreen) and Virtual Instruments (VirtualWisdom), although OneCommand Vision could also be used in conjunction with those tools, according to Shaun Walsh, vice president of corporate marketing at Emulex.

OneCommand Vision is a software-only approach to I/O monitoring that runs on standard Linux servers, providing cross-domain monitoring that administrators can use to avoid SAN bottlenecks and to tune performance. The software can be used with Fibre Channel equipment from any vendor, including adapters from Emulex rivals QLogic and Brocade (see "Brocade CNAs qualified by EMC, HDS, IBM, NetApp").

OneCommand Vision collects I/O traffic data from OS device drivers, switch logs and diagnostic tools in storage systems, providing end-to-end (application to spindle) monitoring in physical or virtual environments. The software currently works only with Fibre Channel and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), although versions for NAS and iSCSI environments are in the works. Users can integrate the software with other vendors' management frameworks via SNMP.

Emulex's OneCommand Vision is priced at $32,500 with support for 25 physical servers, regardless of how many virtual machines (VMs) are hosted. The software can scale to support up to 2,000 servers.

(Here's another article on the Emulex announcement, from Enterprise Storage Forum: "Emulex Moves Into Network Management.")

Also at Interop, Emulex announced partnerships with a number of 10GbE specialists with the goal of assisting end users making the migration to 10 Gigabit Ethernet. Partners include Arista Networks, Blade Network Technologies, Extreme, Force10, Ixia, Juniper and Voltaire.

Virtual I/O
Startup Aprius demonstrated for the first time its virtual I/O platform. Although the company is shipping the I/O virtualization system to end users and OEMs, a final version may not come out until late this year or early next year.

The startup boasts a management and engineering team from vendors such as Intel, Extreme, Brocade, HP, Cisco, Broadcom, VMware and Microsoft.

Aprius' virtual I/O hardware/software will compete with I/O virtualization implementations from vendors such as NextIO, VirtenSys and Xsigo (see "Dell to resell Xsigo's virtual I/O products"). According to Craig Thompson, vice president of marketing at Aprius, the company's approach differs from existing approaches in that it does not require a separate fabric. Instead, Aprius' I/O virtualization is based on tunneling PCIe over Ethernet.

"For the most part, end users haven't jumped on I/O virtualization, in part because it was pitched as a replacement for top-of-rack switching, which was very disruptive to users and put the virtual I/O vendor in the critical path," says Thompson.

At Interop, Aprius demonstrated sharing three card types across standard servers: a 6Gbps SAS controller supporting SR-IOV from LSI, a QLogic Fibre Channel HBA, and a Neterion 10GbE NIC supporting SR-IOV from Exar.

Aprius' technology can be used to connect up to 32 servers via 10GbE to a shared pool of PCIe slots.

Best of Show
Mellanox scored a "Best of Interop" award in the Data Center Server and Storage category with its forthcoming BridgeX BX5020 gateway, a 40Gbps InfiniBand gateway that connects to Ethernet and/or Fibre Channel. BridgeX integrates with Mellanox's ConnectX converged network adapters (CNAs).

Features of the 1U InfiniBand-to-Ethernet/FC gateway include four 40Gbps InfiniBand server ports and up to 12 10GbE and iSCSI SAN ports. Next up is software support for as many as 16 Fibre Channel ports (up to 8Gbps).

Also at Interop, Mellanox introduced the BridgeX SDK, a software development kit aimed at OEMs that want to add FCoE to their switches – a move that might broaden the market for FCoE switches and increase competition in that space. The BridgeX SDK works with Mellanox's BridgeX gateway silicon and 10GbE switches.

According to the Dell'Oro Group research firm, the market for FCoE is expected to grow to about 2.7 million ports in 2014.

Unified fabrics
Voltaire demonstrated at Interop a scale-out virtual infrastructure over 10GbE with products from partners such as Blade Network Technologies, HP, Intel, Emulex (OneConnect Universal Converged Network Adapters with support for FCoE), and VMware, as well as Voltaire's VantageT 8500 10GbE layer-2 core switch. The environment was "orchestrated" with Voltaire's new Unified Fabric ManagerT (UFMT) 3.0 software.

Test equipment manufacturer Ixia demonstrated a converged fabric at Interop consisting of a Cisco Nexus 5010 switch and Unified Computing System (UCS) C200 M1 platform, as well as OneConnect Universal CNAs from Emulex. Ixia's IxVM provided performance characterization of the virtual switch, and the company's IxNetwork measured throughput on the converged infrastructure by delivering traffic from FCoE to native Fibre Channel via a recently released Fibre Channel load module (which was a finalist for an Interop Best of Show award).

Ixia's test gear, including IxANVL, IxNetwork and IxSAN, was also present in a number of its partners' booths at Interop, including Arista Networks, Emulex, Extreme Networks and SonicWALL.

Vizioncore demonstrated all of its data protection products for virtual servers in the VMware booth at Interop, including a sneak peek at the upcoming Version 4.5 of Vizioncore's vRanger Pro Data Protection Platform (DPP). vRanger 4.5 will include two features – Active Block Mapping and Change Block Tracking – that the company says will significantly reduce backup times in virtualized environments.

Other storage-related products demonstrated by Vizioncore included vReplicator (VM replication), vConverter (disaster recovery), vFoglight (performance monitoring, capacity planning, chargeback and service management), vOptimizer Pro (storage optimization), and vControl (provisioning and VM management).

TAPping the source
Although not at the Interop show, Virtual Instruments this week introduced a patch panel for Traffic Access Points (TAPs) that simplifies setting up Fibre Channel SAN performance monitoring and diagnostics.

The SANInsight Fibre TAP Patch Panel System integrates with Virtual Instruments' NetWisdom and VirtualWisdom platforms through the company's SANInsight Probe FCX and SANInsight Protocol Analyzers, and is targeted primarily at companies with very large SANs and virtual infrastructures.

TAPs are old hat in the IP network world, but are relatively new in the Fibre Channel SAN arena. Although the use of Fibre Channel TAPs is not unique to Virtual Instruments, integrating TAPs into a fibre-optic patch panel enclosure is a differentiator.

The use of a patch panel does not reduce the number of TAPs required, but it does reduce the amount of rack space, number of cable hops, insertion loss (of light) and overall costs associated with configuring SAN management environments, particularly manual labor costs, according to Len Rosenthal, vice president of marketing at Virtual Instruments.

A TAP includes a pair of splitters that support bidirectional network traffic, creating an out-of-band copy of the light signal passing through it. TAPs do not impact SAN performance, according to Skip Bacon, Virtual Instruments' vice president of products.

Using TAPs ("TAPping") is an alternative to Switched Port Analyzer (SPAN), or port mirroring, supported by switch vendors. "Hardware-level TAPping is the only way to go to get no-latency, real-time traffic analysis," Bacon claims.

"Getting access into a fabric is incredibly difficult.  Using mirror and SPAN ports just doesn't cut it if you want to see what's really going on, especially when performance issues are the focus and you need to see over-the-wire latency and make sure you're not dropping frames on high-speed connections," says Jeff Boles, senior analyst and director of validation services at the Taneja Group research and consulting firm. "With TAPs, administrators can figure out what they need to see, and then put a total solution in place to see it."

Virtual Instruments' SANInsight TAP Patch Panel System can be configured with 4 to 12 TAPs per shelf-mounted cassette, or up to 48 TAPped patch links in a 1U rack. The system works with any vendor's Fibre Channel HBA, switch or storage device.


This article was originally published on April 30, 2010