Compaq releases PCI-X array controller

Faster data-exchange rates and more reliable server performance were promised Tuesday by Compaq Computer, which released the SmartArray 5312 Controller, an array controller that makes use of a new bus technology.

The SmartArray 5312 (SA-5312) is said by Compaq to be the first array controller to use PCI-X (Peripheral Component Interconnect Extended) bus technology, which enables data to move through a 64-bit bus at speeds of 133Mhz, or 1.06G bps (bits per second). Older PCI technology limits data speeds to 66Mhz, producing 532M bps of bandwidth.

An array controller directs the flow of data across multiple hard drives such as those found in higher-performance servers, and retains the data that passes through it in the event of a hardware failure. A computer bus is the path on which data travels between a microprocessor and computer peripherals, such as hard drives or CD-ROM drives.

Companies using distributed workgroup or centralized department servers are the target market of the SA-5312, said Jeff Jenkins, director of marketing for server storage and infrastructure in Compaq's Industry Standard Server Group.

Users can upgrade the on-board battery-backed write cache from 128M bytes to 256M bytes of memory, allowing for more data to be processed by the server, Jenkins said. Controllers with a higher cache capacity can buffer more data as it passes from the processor to the hard drives, preventing an overload of data at the hard drive. This allows the SA-5312 to detect hard drive faults before they occur, and to maintain the integrity of data should the hard drive fail using RAID (Redundant Array of Independent Disks) technology, Compaq said.

The SA-5312 is backwards-compatible with older PCI technology, but it will run at the slower 66Mhz speed if plugged into an older PCI slot. In order to take full advantage of PCI-X technology, the SA-5312 must be used on a server optimized for PCI-X technology. Compaq currently has one server that can handle PCI-X technology, the DL760, although the company plans to add eight PCI-X servers by the end of the year, including three within the next quarter, Jenkins said.

Compaq, in Houston, also provides a suite of management software with the SA-5312, including Compaq Insight Manager, which allows the administrator to install and monitor the control through a graphical user interface, and set parameters for alerts in the event of a failure, Jenkins said.

The SA-5312 is priced at US$1,599, a $300 increase over Compaq's current line of array controllers, Jenkins said. The controller is available immediately worldwide through Compaq's channel, and will be available through its Web site April 15.

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