VirtenSys caused a bit of a stir among the judges when it won best virtualisation product at last year's Techworld Award. For a start, it was a company that none of us had heard of and then it was offering a technology that struck us immediately as innovative and revolutionary.

While the world was getting used to server virtualisation, and while desktop virtualisation is beginning to creep up the agenda, ViternSys provided something called I/O virtualisation. This is not a new technology - a company called Xsigo which has an OEM agreement with Dell has already taken steps down this path but VirtenSys's approach is more sophisticated, more user-friendly and offers greater savings.

VirtenSys won the award with ease and we've waited to hear where the company was going to go next. The next step was signing up customers and signing up UK partners such as ADA, Virso and SGI before the next push.

So, what's so special about VirtenSys and why could it be genuinely disruptive technology for the data centre. The key feature of the company's switch range (there are two versions: the VIO 4001 and VIO 4008) is that they allow multiple servers in the datacentre to share I/O. Consequently, a company with 16 servers would need just one NIC to service them, instead of 16 - which represents one hell of a cost saving in its own right before other factors are included. There's also the ability to provide one upstream link instead of 16 - another cost saving, about 60 percent, estimates Paul Klinkby-Silver, European VP.

Although this might seem like nothing but bad news for NIC vendors, VirtenSys's president and CEO Ahmet Houssein says that this is not necessarily the case - although it had been in the past "Two years ago, it was disruptive for them. But NIC vendors now recognise that this technology is an inevitable movement and they're putting capabilities in their cards. You'll see that in the next generation of NICs - the adaptive members are seeing the way the market's going."

While this is impressive, there are some other real savings. Klinkby-Silver says that the figures are "almost embarrassing" - which means that he's not embarrassed about them at all, particularly as much vendors are putting so much effort into demonstrating the energy efficiencies of their products.

The figures are staggering - the company claims that there's a whopping 80 percent saving on energy costs, but this does make sense. This not a vendor claiming that its server consumes less power than the next one, this is a figure based on a customer requiring considerably less equipment and that consuming less power too. What's more, there's a considerable saving in form factor as rather than 3 or4U servers, Virtensys is taking up 1U across a rack so they're immediately shrinking the footprint within the data centre.

This has immediate implications for data centres in places like London where space and power can be at a premium.

It's no surprise to hear that Virtensys is in talks with all five major blade server vendors and is expecting to make an announcement on partnerships with "at least two of them" within a month or so, says Hussain.

Given so many cost benefits served up by I/O virtualisation, one of the only choices appears to be whether to go with Xsigo or Virtensys. Klinkby-Silver says that one major advantage that Virtensys has over its competitor is that there's no requirement to adopt Infiniband, the high-speed interconnection technology that Xsigo uses. VirtenSys attaches direct to PCI Express, in effect extending the chassis into the switch., making it much more efficient and power-friendly.

Klinkby-Silver says that Virtensys rarely comes across Xsigo when pitching for customers."They're much more high-end than we are: we aim for a wider range of customers from mid-range upwards." As for who would benefit from Virtensys technology? "I think customers with as few as five to six servers could see some cost benefits, but our target market is enterprises with 50 servers upwards," he says.

The company is currently working on minor changes for the switch; looking at better ways to integrate with VMware and Hype-V and preparing for the next generation of PCIe.

It all looks very promising. We see plenty of companies promising a revolutionary approach but very few who deliver. VirtenSys is still young; still has very few customers and has a long way to go but at first glance it looks to be a technology that could shake up the data centre as we know it and, with CIOs, looking to save money in any way they can, looks to be a very attractive option.