How LSI Plans to Help Supply Back End of Internet of Things

For the data center chipmaker, the coming Internet of things is simply an extension of business as usual.

Now that the Internet of things is well under construction, more and more IT companies are looking to fine-tune their identities and product lines to try to earn a good bite of that impending new business.

Some will design and build all new products. Others will rebundle current wares to attract new customers. Still others will simply add the IoT to their marketing message and make it appear as if they have new things to sell.

But for LSI, the Internet of things is simply an extension of business as usual. The San Jose, Calif.-based maker of semiconductors and software for data storage systems has had its products ready for this trend for a long time. It's been busy researching and developing new higher-performance, lower-power processors that will be coming into the market months and years from now, ready to move into the new-generation machine-to-machine and human-to-machine computing world.

“You won't see our chips in these types of devices," CEO Abhi Talwalkar (pictured) told eWEEK, holding up his smartphone, "but you will see them in key locations in the back ends of systems of all sizes--in all the places that enable everything else to work."

Acquisitions Have Proven Important

LSI also has been busy acquiring other companies that can help take it to where it wants to go: to become the No. 1 storage networking processor maker in the world. It's already No. 1 or No. 2 in all the markets in which it competes. Its main competitors are China's Marvell Technology Group, NXP Semiconductor and ST Microelectronics. To a lesser extent, LSI competes against companies such as Nvidia and Intel.

To bolster itself against all those worthy market opponents, LSI over the past few years has bought small but forward-thinking companies such as solid-state storage makers SandForce, ONStor, SiliconStor and StoreAge, semiconductor maker Aquantia, and Ethernet networker Chelsio Communications.

This plainly tells us that LSI is bulking up on SSD intellectual property for the future, when NAND flash and newer types of solid-stage storage will be dominating the markets. Right now, spinning disk hard drives are still No. 1 for a number of reasons, but the general consensus throughout the industry is that the tipping point when SSDs take over is going to be sooner rather than later. At the end of 2013, only about 30 percent of all enterprise disks are solid-state; this percentage should reach the mid-40s by the end of next year.

From all accounts, LSI will be well-prepared for when it does happen. Its three main product lines are all solid-state: SSD chips for many uses, PCIe cards for servers, and processors for enterprise networking switches and bay stations.

PCIe Cards a Key Focus

One of the biggest areas of investment for LSI is in PCIe cards. PCIe (peripheral component interconnect express) was introduced by Intel in 2004; it is a NAND flash-based computer expansion card standard based on point-to-point serial links rather than a shared parallel bus architecture, and is designed to replace the older PCI, PCI-X and AGP standards.

LSI launched its first PCIe product, Nytro, in April 2012 and is continually refining it. The PCIe form factor is a hot trend because these cards simply slip into place inside servers to substantially speed up data storage input and output. They're great for hybrid-type systems as well as those going through a refresh from legacy to new-gen hardware.

Since the last major bottleneck in IT systems is storage networking, speed is what solid-state and new-gen processing is all about. The sheer mountain of data coming into data centers is increasing the networking problems to be solved.

PCIe-based flash storage has the ability to bypass traditional storage overhead by reducing latencies, increasing throughput and enabling efficient processing of massive quantities of data. PCIe, like all solid-state components, are faster and more environmentally friendly processors and use application code efficiently. This all points in one direction: faster and more efficient performance, which is the No. 1 goal of LSI, among others.

'Stewards of the Industry'

"We'd like to be considered stewards of the industry, in that we'd like to get people working on some of the same things," Talwalkar said during a year-end summary interview with eWEEK. "We're big on working partnerships toward these goals. Standards need to be established, so that all the companies working (on the IoT) can work together. But IT moves quickly and standards take time, so there are some real issues there.

"What I spend time on is the future of 10 to 15 years from now that will be highly shaped by all the data around us, whether it's data from us, from sensors, devices and so forth. We're going to be there in a number of places," Talwalkar said.

Like other progressive IT vendors, LSI is working closely with the OpenStack Alliance to make the processing building blocks needed for future heavy duty workloads to be processed in distributed virtualized systems. "About half our business is now in the data center," Talwalkar said.

Talwalkar offered a scenario of what he sees as possible in the future, if IT companies can get it together and work toward standards that can enable true progress.

Future Use Case

"Let's say that you've got an individual who falls unconscious somewhere in the city, and he's riding a bike," Talwalkar said. "A camera detects this accident, processes it quickly and dispatches a paramedic. A paramedic comes to the scene, does a retina scan to confirm all the [health] information on that individual; they do a brain scan, then a chest scan. All this information is sent back to multiple points, and that is processed.

"There are real-time analytics behind the scenes that ultimately diagnose the patient on the spot for what treatment is needed. Not too far-fetched. But we need lots of companies to work together to do this."

LSI will be providing a portion of the underlying IT in this scenario, including the processors involved in moving various forms of data from one point to another in the network.

"All of that analytic processing that will need to be done will be done in the data center," Talwalkar said, "whether it's storage and memory IT, whether it's data center architecture, or whether it's the analytics frameworks and data models. That's been a big part of the discussion at LSI."

Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...