Oracle acquires Xsigo to address networking and cloud gaps

Oracle tries to capitalize on news of VMware's acquisition of Nicira, but I/O virtualization is not the same as SDN

Coming quickly on the heels of VMware's announced purchase plans of Nicira, Oracle a week later brought news of its own: The company is buying network I/O virtualization vendor Xsigo Systems for an undisclosed sum, though the price tag should be far less than VMware's handsome offer of $1.26 billion made for Nicira.

Prior to this announcement, networking was considered to be a major technology gap in the Oracle/Sun data center product lineup. But this purchase will give Oracle a slight nudge toward a more complete set of virtualization solutions and help to advance its cloud computing offerings. It will also help Oracle to better compete with the likes of Dell, HP, and IBM, although the company still has a ways to go before its networking portfolio is seen as being on the same level as its competitors.

[ In an exclusive interview with InfoWorld, Nicira's CTO explains the company is worth $1.2 billion to VMware. | Keep up on virtualization by signing up for InfoWorld's Virtualization newsletter. ]

Ever since VMware threw more than a billion dollars at Nicira, software-defined networking (SDN) has become the new buzzword within the IT community, with some hoping it becomes as popular as "virtualization" or "cloud." As an example, by adding "SDN" to its announcement, Oracle was able to capitalize on this frenzy and gain even more press coverage for its Xsigo acquisition. But from a technology standpoint, I have to ask if this acquisition is really about SDN.

Both acquisitions are a reflection of how networking is once again becoming important and a hot topic of conversation in the technology world. But at the end of the day, Xsigo and Nicira are not the same. More to the point, there seems to be some confusion as to whether these two companies are addressing the same technology space and if Xsigo is an SDN player in the true sense of the word.

Some industry pundits are promoting Oracle's SDN claims and positioning Xsigo with other SDN vendors, such as Nicira and Big Switch Networks. But is that true? Yes, Xsigo does create virtual network connections with software, but it doesn't do so with an OpenFlow-based software controller, which is largely how SDNs have become defined. For what it's worth, Xsigo doesn't even appear to be a member of the Open Networking Foundation (ONF), the nonprofit consortium that's developing and setting standards for the OpenFlow protocol on which SDN is based.

With Nicira, VMware will be able to allow its customers to build and configure entire computer networks using software, similar to the way VMware currently enables the configuration of virtual servers. But Xsigo's software and hardware solution is currently more about I/O virtualization and reducing the number of network cards, switches, and cables required to operate a network of virtual machines.

"Xsigo is virtualization of storage I/O, which is different than virtualization of networking, which is one aspect of SDN," explained Kyle Forster, co-founder of Big Switch Networks. "What they are doing is important and increases the utilization of storage and storage performance, and will help increase data efficiency."

Forster went on to say, "This makes a ton of sense for Oracle, but it doesn't deliver on the promise of SDN which is to make networks programmable by separating control and forwarding planes. This decoupling accelerates innovation on both hardware and software, and when based on industry standards such as OpenFlow, allows customers to have multivendor environments."

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