Server virtualization technologies are getting monstrous amounts of buzz because they encourage cost savings, permit greater deployment flexibility, and increase utilization rates. Today, most virtualization technologies focus on software implementations, but a fledgling server vendor called Fabric7 is taking a different, hardware-based approach.
According to CEO Sharad Mehrotra, the performance of Fabric7 servers is competitive with proprietary, often pricey midrange RISC/Unix servers from the likes of Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems -- at about a quarter of the cost.
Fabric7’s servers center on eight single- or dual-core AMD Opteron CPUs and as much as 128GB of memory, connected via switched I/O that supports 128Gbps of bidirectional traffic and as fast as 40Gbps of server I/O. The use of the relatively low-cost Opteron processors is one way that Fabric7 achieves lowers costs. Another is by offering Windows or Linux as the operating system, saving Fabric7 the development costs of its own Unix variant, something each of its established competitors continues to invest in.
Mehrotra acknowledges that AIX, HP-UX, and Solaris do have some capabilities not found in either Windows or Linux that appeal to large enterprises needing maximum performance, such as dynamic provisioning of memory. This advantage limits Fabric7’s current market to the midperformance RISC server level. But Mehrotra expects Windows Vista to close most of the gaps, allowing Fabric7 servers to compete against high-end RISC servers as well. He notes, however, that these high-end server issues have not been a priority for the Linux development community. Thus, Mehtrotra doesn’t anticipate Linux systems competing against AIX, HP-UX, and Solaris at the very high end.
But beyond low cost, the key selling point of the Fabric7 server is its capability of providing mainframe-style virtualization. “Fabric7’s product is a collection of servers that can be created and destroyed as needed,” Mehrotra says. From a single control center, administrators can allocate CPUs, I/O, memory, Ethernet, Fibre Channel interfaces, and other resources among the servers to scale to the performance needs. And because the virtualization is done in hardware, Mehrotra says, there’s none of the performance cost associated with software virtualization techniques.
That combination of low-cost components, commodity OS, and sophisticated engineering means Fabric7 servers should be poised to serve the needs of the growing market for virtualized infrastructure.