Server Farming

Jul 24 2008   7:18PM GMT

Add PCI Express I/O connectivity without adding PCI Express

Bridget Botelho Profile: Bridget Botelho

Recently, Tucson, Ariz.-based NextIO announced its ExpressConnect I/O virtualization product, which adds additional PCI Express (PCIe) I/O connectivity to any server in a data center.

“PCI Express is cost-effective, has a lot of bandwidth and a wide range of standard based I/O devices are available on PCIe, but usually there is only one [PCIe] device per server,” said Chris Pettey, the CTO and co-founder of NextIO. “With [ExpressConnect], you can have many PCIe devices for many servers.”

ExpressConnect works by virtualizing PCIe. It’s a 3U high box with slots into which you can plug I/O devices and is coupled with the N1400-PCM High-Speed Switch Module which enables blade servers to expand their PCIe signals outside the chassis. Doing so creates a pool of I/O resources that is separate from the server itself and can be accessed by any server.

Pettey compared ExpressConnect to Hewlett-Packard’s Virtual Connect, which virtualizes the connection between HP BladeSystem servers and a network but is proprietary to HP BladeSystem. “[ExpressConnect] can do everything HP Virtual Connect can do, only across many platforms and blades and racks. You can run any virtualization platform, any OS, and mix and match servers.”

Egenera’s Processing Area Network PAN Manager software also virtualizes I/O resources and is available on Egenera’s servers and Dell PowerEdge servers. Dell released its own version recently, called FlexAddress, for its PowerEdge M-series servers.

David G. Hill, a principal analyst at the Mesabi Group in Westwood, Mass, ranks NextIO’s product highly for data centers with high I/O throughput demands. “NextIO has the greatest impact in processing environments where the bottleneck is I/O performance, at a reasonable price,” Hill said. “The initial benefits are in I/O performance-demanding environments, such as high bandwidth, high-definition video processing, financial modeling and Web 2.0 data center virtualization.”

A few months ago, I spoke with NextI/O, then waited weeks and weeks for the company to come up with a user reference and some product pricing to no avail. In a case like this, I generally move product information from my My Documents folder to the Recycle Bin, but at face value it appears to be a pretty good technology, and Hill gave it high marks, so I (begrudgingly) decided to post this in case anyone is looking for such a technology.

Just don’t ask me what users think about ExpressConnect, because I don’t know that there are any. As for pricing, the company suggests contacting

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