A switching storage world

A recent announcement from Fujitsu adds new Eternus3000 storage arrays models for entry-level and mid-range storage system captured my attention last week. The larger unit, the Eternus3000 model 600, can attach as many as 240 FC (Fibre Channel) drives for a maximum capacity of 35TB to Linux, Unix, and Microsoft Windows server using 2Gbps connections.

Interestingly, the model 600 promises to increase I/O performance by 80 percent over the previous 400 model, taking advantage of fast 2.8GHz processors and of a switched internal architecture that leverages Vixel's Inspeed SOC (Switch on a Chip) between controllers and disk drives.

This announcement from Fujitsu is very interesting by itself because it adds more storage arrays to the already very competitive low-end and mid-range segments. In addition, the adoption of a switched internal architecture deserves attention of its own, because it confirms the continued interest by storage vendors for Vixel's Inspeed technology.

According to Beth White, vice president of marketing at Vixel, Inspeed has gathered the attention of major OEMs, including Apple Computer, Avid Technologies, BlueArc, HP, Network Appliance, NEC, Sun Microsystems, and others that she was not at liberty to disclose at this time.

I’ve mentioned Vixel Inspeed in previous columns, but let's recap the basics of this intriguing technology. As we all know, many FC storage arrays adopt a loop configuration, FC-AL (Fibre Channel arbitrated loop), to connect storage controllers to disk or tape devices. Although you can attach as many as 126 devices to FC-AL, this very popular architecture is nevertheless a compromise between performance and cost.

Intuitively, a switched architecture that allows controllers to target each disk drive independently ensures better throughput, but also adds a significant cost to final products, which makes the already more expensive FC solutions less competitive, especially in the low- and mid-tier segments.

What the Inspeed technology offers is essentially a miniature FC switch, able to establish point-to-point connections between controllers and tape or disk devices on a FC-AL, cutting dramatically the latency typical of that environment. In addition to better performance, Inspeed SOCs facilitate error diagnostic and recovery from device failures, which adds less glamorous, but nonetheless significant, benefits to solutions that include that technology.

It will be interesting to measure the impact that new emerging point-to-point protocols, such as SAS (Serial Attached SCSI), will have on the very diversified low end of the storage market. However, predicting the possible effect of SAS on loop-based and switched-FC solutions will remain guesswork until next year, when actual SAS solutions will appear on the market.

For now, Vixel Inspeed solutions have no immediate rivals and respond to conflicting customer demand for affordability and smooth, swift operations with a unique switch-on-a-chip approach that combines the moderate cost of FC-AL with the benefits of switched connections.

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