New fast lanes to storage

Does virtualization leave you hungry for faster storage systems? New chip from PMC-Sierra may provide the answer

Cutting through the sales-pitch hype of Tier 1 vendor presentations often means checking in with their suppliers. After all, conversations with suppliers tend to reflect what Tier 1 vendors ask of them. Less sales-oriented, these talks can be refreshing in that they are less likely to be sugarcoated with hype and more likely to be built on facts.

Take, for example, two statements I heard last week during a briefing with chip provider PMC-Sierra: "Virtualization is driving demand for greater bandwidth" and "Strong growth is expected for FC [Fibre Channel], SAS, and SATA drives."

Although the second statement may not be surprising, the first -- that virtualization is driving demand for bandwidth -- will hit like a ton of bricks for anyone who ever had to connect a VMware ESX server to a SAN.

Think, for example, how limited a 2Gbps FC pipe can be if you have to feed a bunch of virtual machines out of your FC array. Makes you scream for faster storage, does it not?

Which is why PMC-Sierra mentioned it. If you want those fast connections on your storage systems, someone has to provide the chips. In fact, PMC-Sierra has one promising solution ready to go (see diagram).

Don't be put off by the lack of color in the diagram. The chip's performance numbers are all the jazz you need. In fact, the PM8032, alias Tachyon QE8, can spit out bits at 2.5Gbps or at 5Gbps from its eight CPU-facing PCI Express ports, shown on the top of the diagram.

The bottom of the diagram outlines the storage end of things. The four FC ports can crunch data at 8Gbps, or they can sync with older connections at 4Gbps and 2Gbps.

Regardless of how impressive the speed of those inbound and outbound connections may be, the diagram does not do justice to the work the Tachyon QE8 can do: Try 1.6 million IOPS (input-output operations per second), or 6.4GBps if fast transfers are your main concern.

How much that chip will cost in a final product is hard to tell, but PMC-Sierra will charge a mere US$325 per chip for large quantities. Samples will be available in the first quarter of 2008.

What fact I could not get from PMC-Sierra during its presentation is which of its Tier 1 customers are going to sign up for the chip. Discretion is understandable, but it shouldn't stop you from asking your salesperson whether they have plans to deploy PMC-Sierra's Tachyon QE8 controller.

Who knows? You might even get a definite answer without having to sift through any hype.

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