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Xsigo Systems, which peddles an in-band I/O virtualization appliance for servers and their storage and networks, has inked a partnership deal with Japanese server and storage maker Hitachi.

Hitachi is looking for some kind of leverage for pushing its storage and servers, and Xsigo's VP780 I/O Director helps fill in some gaps much as it did for Dell when that then-struggling server maker made a similar deal with Xsigo a year ago. And for its part, Xsigo is looking for any help it can find to sell its I/O virtualization appliance anywhere it can.

In the wake of the launch of the VP780 I/O director in the fall of 2007, both IBM and Hewlett-Packard certified the I/O virtualization appliance as being compatible with their server wares. Dell doesn't have its own virtualized server fabrics, so it needed a deal with Xsigo to have a virtual I/O story to talk about. This is in contrast to IBM, with its Open Fabric Manager, and HP, with its VirtualConnect for blade servers.

And in the wake of the Dell-Xsigo deal last year, Cisco Systems has perhaps the most complete vision of converged networking and virtual I/O for servers thanks to its Nexus and Unified Computing System switches that are used, respectively, for standalone servers made by anyone (including Cisco) or for the "California" blade servers made by Cisco.

Don't be confused by what I just said about Cisco. That company having the most complete vision doesn't mean it has the best products or the best strategy - you can make the right kind of product and no one buys it, as has happened time and time again in this IT racket.

Hitachi and its reseller and integration partner, Itochu Techno-Solutions of Tokyo, will be peddling a jointly developed combination of Hitachi systems-management software, Hitachi storage, and the Xsigo appliance to build virtualized cloud computing facilities in Japan.

Hitachi's servers are not part of the formal solution, but obviously the company is keen on pairing its BladeSymphony Xeon 5500 blade servers, which were updated last May, with the VP780 I/O Director to be able to take on IBM, HP, and Cisco with their virtualized blades.

You might be wondering why a server maker hasn't acquired Xsigo yet as the foundation of their server and storage I/O virtualization efforts. The technology is open, inasmuch as that means it works with any server or storage, and at $30,000 for an appliance with links for 24 servers and multiple links to networks and Fibre Channel storage, this I/O virtualizer is useful.

But what the Xsigo appliance doesn't do is converge storage and server networks and then virtualize at the hypervisor layer inside of a virtual switch plunked in the middle of the stack, which is the idea Cisco is selling with UCS converged switches mixed with VMware's vSphere hypervisor and management tools.

If you use the VP780 I/O Director, which is based on InfiniBand switching technology, to virtualize links for servers to storage and networks, you can cut down on the NICs and adapters you need to one per machine. But you also have to buy pricey InfiniBand adapters for the server and use InfiniBand cabling. (It would have been great if InfiniBand had been standard on servers by now, as far as Xsigo is concerned).

Basically, a year and a half after Xsigo came up with an elegant solution to the problem of virtualizing server and storage I/O, Cisco changed the conditions of the test. Cisco already has over 1,000 customers using its Nexus converged switches and is on track to break $1bn in sales in fiscal 2010, according to John Chambers, the company's chairman and chief executive officer; the company also has 400 customers trying out its "California" UCS blade servers.

According to Gary Thome, chief architect of HP's infrastructure software and blade server division, HP has sold over 2 million blade servers equipped with VirtualConnect storage and network virtualization. No word on how many customers that is, but it is lots.

In June 2009, when its VC backers pumped more cash into Xsigo (but they didn’t say how much), the company said it had 35 customers. Xsigo is privately held and has been funded by venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins, Khosla Ventures, Greylock Partners, and North Bridge Venture Partners.

Xsigo says that customers who deploy its I/O virtualization appliance for servers and storage can cut server operational costs by 80 per cent, capital costs by 50 per cent, and have 70 per cent fewer cables. Strong selling points, to be sure. But it's tough to go up against Cisco, IBM, and HP, even with Dell and now Hitachi as allies. ®

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