This week attendees of Microsoft Tech Ed are getting their share of great food, music, and entertainment walking the streets of New Orleans. However, they are also there to learn about new and interesting technology from Microsoft and its partners. With all the interest in software defined networking, there will no doubt be plenty of discussion and announcements about SDN this week and Microsoft’s NVGRE solution. One of the interesting announcements came from Emulex as it threw its hat into the SDN ring.
It announced its forthcoming Emulex Virtual Network Exceleration (VNeX) virtual network offload technology. Thus bringing intelligent I/O systems into the SDN discussion, and more specifically the network overlay/network virtualization part of the SDN discussion. The concept is pretty straightforward: leverage the network controller to offload NVGRE header encapsulation process in order to accelerate the performance of Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V Network Virtualization. This would essentially remove the burden of that process from the server CPU, freeing it up to host more VMs. Taking a page out of the iSCSI offloading history books, the network controller, which now packs some impressive processing power itself, can maximize server CPU utilization and drive higher levels of performance in a network overlay/network virtualization environment. Ultimately, by deploying the network encapsulation process on the network controller, organizations could drive greater VM density on the server—which would then result in fewer physical hosts and reduced CAPEX and OPEX.
So while much of the SDN discussion has been focused on areas other than I/O (with the exception of one acquisition), perhaps it is time to revisit the role that an intelligent I/O system could play in an SDN environment, and network overlay/network virtualization efforts specifically. It’s ability to perform I/O and network processing independently from the host CPU could bring measurable improvements, in fact its press release Emulex claims the VNeX technology can improve network throughput up to 130% (depending on system configuration in early engineering testing) for Windows Server 2012 Hyper-V Network Virtualization environments. Those kinds of numbers could be very attractive to both cloud providers trying to squeeze out every last bit of performance and efficiency from their cloud environment and to enterprises looking to boost private cloud deployments. The Emulex VNeX presents an opportunity to inject programmability at the edge and positively impact host CPU performance in existing server virtualization environments and enhance network throughput. Look for more on this subject later.