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The Times They Are a-Changin' - Tackling the Third Leg of Server Virtualization – the Network

AMD Best Practices Series.  A Contributed Series by AMD.

The Times They Are a-Changin' - Tackling the Third Leg of Server Virtualization – the Network, written by Tim Mueting, Product Marketing Manager at AMD 

Dylan had it right in 1963 when he recorded this classic that some say captured the spirit of social and political unrest of the times.  Today, the times certainly are a-changin', especially when it comes to the computing power of x86 servers.  The role of x86 servers in the world of enterprise IT continues to grow.  In fact, according to an IDC report, the first quarter of 2010 experienced the fastest year-over-year revenue growth for x86 servers in more than 10 years.  Virtualization, once a niche technology is growing more pervasive in today's datacenters. 

Servers based on x86 technology are equipped with unprecedented amounts of I/O and memory capacity.  The latest AMD OpteronTM 6000 series platform (formerly known by the code name "Magny-Cours") is based on the AMD Direct Connect Architecture 2.0.  The platform now boasts up to 12 cores per processor, supports up to two times the memory and I/O bandwidth of the previous generation Six-Core AMD OpteronTM processor and includes AMD-VTM I/O Virtualization technology in the chipset.  

With all the advancements in virtualization technology over the past few years, it appears we're ready to tackle what some are calling the third leg of server virtualization - the network.  A great example of this is HP's latest release of Virtual Connect Flex-10 networking adapters for the HP ProLiant BladeSystem, and VMware vSphere vNetwork Distributed Switch feature.  HP's Virtual Connect Flex-10 is hardware-based I/O technology that enables you to partition a 10Gb Ethernet connection into four virtual connections and fine-tune the bandwidth of each of those connections.

Virtual Network Design

We've seen how virtualization has changed the way servers are designed, and we are now seeing virtualization change the way networks are designed.  In the world of virtualization, a physical server hosts many virtual servers, which can now communicate with multiple virtual network interface controllers (NICs).   Virtual switches contained within the physical server extend the network infrastructure beyond the physical NIC which creates a virtual network infrastructure - all of which must be managed and tuned.

Enter HP Virtual Connect Flex-10.  Virtual Connect Flex-10 defines a physical end-point to the network infrastructure and allows a server administrator to control the assignment of virtual networks (or VLANS) to the physical NICs inside the BladeSystem.  This Virtual Connect end-point clearly separates the role of the server administrator from the role of the network administrator. The network administrator provisions the network VLANs to the Virtual connect infrastructure and the server administrator connects the NICs to the appropriate network.

Virtual Connect works with VMware's  vSphere 4.0 vNetwork Distributed Switch (vDS).  vDS extends VMware's legacy vSwitch technology with features that enable spanning multiple hosts with a single virtual switch.  vDS now treats the network as an aggregated resource. Individual, host-level virtual switches are abstracted into a single large vNetwork Distributed Switch that spans multiple hosts at the datacenter level.  While a vNetwork Distributed Switch can plug into any existing virtual infrastructure, HP Virtual Connect Flex-10 provides a mechanism for presenting consistent "networks" and VLANs to all hosts within the ESX cluster.

With vDS, VMware has also added a number of other new capabilities, not available with Standard Switches, that address emerging virtual network requirements.  A few of the more interesting features are:

  • Private VLAN (PVLAN) enables users to restrict communication between virtual machines on the same VLAN or network segment which helps to address security concerns and help reduce the number of subnets needed for certain network configurations.
  • Network VMotion tracks the virtual machine networking state as the VM moves from host to host on a vNetwork Distributed Switch providing a consistent view of a virtual network interface regardless of the VM location.
  • Bi-directional Traffic Shaping helps users limit the traffic to or from a VM or group of VMs to protect a VM or other traffic in an oversubscribed network.

Software Licensing

With the introduction of vShpere 4.0, VMware introduced a new tiered licensing model.  Those of you looking at taking advantage of VMware's vNetwork Distributed Switch will need to upgrade to vSphere Enterprise Plus. 

You can now enter into a new generation of Virtualization with technology like HP Virtual Connect Flex-10, vSphere vNetwork Distributed Switch and HP ProLiant BladeSystem servers equipped with AMD OpteronTM 6000 series processors - designed to deliver unprecedented price/performance, vastly improved manageability and decreased power and cooling costs.

Are you considering network virtualization technology for your data center?

Also see John Fruehe's blog "The Value 4P - Courtesy of the AMD Opteron 6000 Series Platform for an overview of the Magny-Cours platform, and check out my blog Understanding the Bigger Picture of VMmark Benchmarks for a review on the latest virtualization performance results.

About the Author

Tim Mueting is a Product Marketing Manager at AMD. His postings are his own opinions and may not represent AMD's positions, strategies or opinions. Links to third party sites are provided for convenience and unless explicitly stated, AMD is not responsible for the contents of such linked sites and no endorsement is implied.

The AMD Virtualization Blog can be found here.

Published Thursday, June 24, 2010 6:50 PM by David Marshall
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