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JavaOne - Intel is backing AMD technology. No, really, swear to God!

Virtualization: 3Leaf Aims To Make Scale-Out Scale Up

Now here's a curiosity. Intel is backing a start-up that depends on AMD technology to do what's it's doing. No, really, swear to God. In fact, Intel led the stealth outfit's $20 million B round last September, bringing total investment to $32.5 million.

Either Intel has mothballed its jackboots and suddenly turned magnanimous or these boys can talk a June bug off a ripe fig, which may be why they call themselves 3Leaf Systems.

3Leaf, which just broke cover with a box called the V-8000, fancies itself challenging Egenera, according to CEO Bob Quinn. He calls 3Leaf "the Egenera of commodity products," and he's gonna have ex-Egenera people peddling the box. Savvis, Egenera's largest customer, has been a beta site.

The V-8000, a stage one product, is a 2U virtual I/O server, which explains the "V" in its name and why 3Leaf is thinking Egenera, which wrote the book on virtualization.

The appliance, so to speak, is built around two dual-core AMD Opterons. 3Leaf exploits AMD's virtualization properties and licensed its HyperTransport technology. Heck, Quinn claims to have given AMD the idea for its Torrenza third-party co-processor scheme.

See, by the middle of next year 3Leaf expects to add a second product that virtualizes memory and processing but that will take both a piece of Torrenza-style silicon code named Aqua that plugs into an Opteron socket and another round of funding.

When 3Leaf puts the V-8000 and the Aqua thing together what should emerge is a cluster of x86 servers, possible tens of thousands of cores, functioning in unison like an SMP or NUMA machine and running multiple applications and multiple operating systems. (Before he turned serial entrepreneur Quinn worked on SMP machines at Unisys.)

But to get there, first there's the V-8000, which is supposed to do wonders for one's infrastructure-related CAPEX and OPEX, cutting the first by as much 50% and the second by as much as 60%.

3Leaf thinks it's mastered the technique for delivering mainframe-class availability and resiliency to a bunch of commodity servers by virtualizing their I/O subsystems.

Basically it consolidates them into a single scale-out resource and then partitions and repurposes them into a virtual scale-up server real-time.

It's supposed to be able to maximize the x86 servers' scalability and utilization - which let's face it is a generally pretty rotten 10%-15% - speed provisioning of new servers - it shouldn't take six-10 weeks to deploy a new service anymore - and provide high availability and centralized management, claims that can bring tears of yearning to a CIO's eyes.

3Leaf's Virtual Compute Environment (VCE) - and its interposing software layer - virtualizes the servers' networking and storage interfaces, replaces them with a single 10 Gbps fabric (Infiniband or Ethernet, no matter) and turns the servers into stateless diskless nodes connected to virtual NICs, virtual Host Bus Adapters and virtual disks.

The fewer devices the greater the cost savings in both material and labor, 3Leaf argues, and unhobbled from a specific physical server can be centrally managed. Fewer drivers should also translate into less downtime.

But the real virtue is in associating the I/O with the operating system, where it belongs, Quinn declares.

One V-8000 can virtualize 20 nodes, but 3Leaf recommends two for high availability. The two cost $100,000 but the data center then gets to virtualize cheaper servers. It won't need the usual $25k kits. And in a crisis the V-8000 is supposed to automatically discover redundant storage paths and bind together redundant networking paths.

Because the V-8000 lets servers be defined in advance, spare nodes can be provisioned in minutes and you don't have to fuss with networks and storage because their interfaces have been pre-allocated. 3Leaf says service levels can also be dynamically modified as application demand changes, which should mean improved utilization of the I/O resources, priority apps running efficiently and mainframe-class availability.

The V-8000 works with Linux, Windows, VMware ESX, Xen and Microsoft virtualization.

Besides Intel, which is waiting to be embraced once its gear goes HyperTransport-like, 3Leaf is also backed by Enterprise Partners, Storm Ventures and Alloy Ventures. Former McData CEO John Kelley is on the board.

The company has 40 full-time people, 80 with consultants and contractors, Quinn said, and no sales. It's using a rep and expects to have an OEM on board by the end of year.

Egenera marketing VP Susan Davis remembers how Egenera early on considered doing a 2,000-CPU single-image systems - it had the talent - its boys from Hitachi - but what stayed its hand was the small size of the market, complicated nowadays by multi-core chips and the competition they pose.

"It's not mainstream," she said.

"It's also harder than it looks in the customer world than in the lab," she said, thinking SAN and switch certification, and making everything work. "It's not the hardware, it's the software," she said.

Others that have gone down this path lately have stumbled. Fabric7 turned up its toes a few weeks ago and Virtual Iron abandoned its SMP aggregation plans and turned into a hypervisor peddler.

More Stories By Virtualization News

SYS-CON's Virtualization News Desk trawls the news sources of the world for the latest details of virtualization technologies, products, and market trends, and provides breaking news updates from the Virtualization Conference & Expo.

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