Former Xsigo CIO: Oracle virtual appliance will be all about the software

The former CIO of Xsigo, an I/O virtualization company bought by Oracle last year, thinks he knows what its virtualization appliance will look like.

The former chief information officer for Xsigo, a network virtualization company that Oracle bought last year, thinks that Oracle will announce a small appliance today that can fit into something like an Exadata to provide I/O virtualization.

Bruce Fingles, who is now the chief operations officer at the Public Library of Science based in San Francisco, said he got an idea of how Oracle was going to use Xsigo's technology before he left there earlier this year. Oracle acquired Xsigo in July 2012, at the time calling it a "leading provider of network virtualization technology. Xsigo is best known for its I/O Director switches, which provide a single high-speed InfiniBand link to each server in a cluster and then virtualize all of those connected I/O resources. Oracle customers would often team Xsigo with server virtualization -- usually running on VMware -- to provide virtual I/O resources for hundreds of virtual machines.

Fingles said those switches will likely be integrated with an Exadata-like appliance to provide better I/O resources throughout the new system. The InfiniBand link between the switches and the servers in the appliance will provide the groundwork for virtualizing the entire system.

But Fingles said  hardware won't be the key to Oracle's new virtualization appliance. It will be software, particularly the ability to provision I/O resources automatically and take advantage of additional bandwidth.

"It's all about managing storage connectivity and moving data from one machine to another," he said. "It's the software behind it that leads to automatic provisioning that is the key to success.

"Otherwise it's nothing more than another top-of-the-rack switch."

Appliance-only Xsigo technology
Fingles’ comments raise the question of whether Oracle will use present and future Xsigo technology only when they are integrated with other Oracle products. For example, Oracle provides database querying improvement features such as Hybrid Columnar Compression and Smart Scan only when they are part of its Exadata database machine.

The announcement for the webcast today calls the new appliance "converged infrastructure powered by Oracle VM server virtualization and Oracle Virtual Networking." The Oracle Virtual Networking is basically Oracle's renaming of Xsigo technology. The fact that Oracle is stressing its own VM hypervisor, however, is what's interesting.

Fingles said that most customers he worked with at Xsigo were running VMware. But he expects Oracle to "force" customers into Oracle VM and provide drivers and solutions for that.

Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with Stillwater, Minn.-based Server and StorageIO Group, said Oracle has been at the forefront in adopting InfiniBand technology between nodes in a cluster, so using Xsigo switches in an appliance makes sense. But he said that pushing customers too much toward Oracle VM wouldn't be a great idea.

"If Oracle is moving away from VMware, that would be like shooting themselves in the foot," Schulz said. "Especially considering how many of their customers use VMware."

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