Vixel SOCs IT to Storage

Enterprise customers can look forward to the reliability that Vixel's SOC (Switch on a chip) technology will provide in a variety of future storage products.

Vixel Corp.s InSpeed SOC technology makes storage hardware faster and more reliable—to the delight of OEMs.

Although IT managers cant purchase the SOC (Switch on a Chip) technology directly from Vixel, chances are high that most companies future storage purchases will have InSpeed SOC or a similar chip inside. eWEEK Labs makes this prediction based on the impressive vendor wins Vixel announced this summer—including BlueArc Corp., Fujitsu Ltd., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Xyratex Technology Ltd. However, products, release dates and prices have yet to be announced.

Vendors jump on the SOC bandwagon

Vixels Switch on a Chip technology boosts the performance and reliability of other storage devices. The following is a list of partners that are, or will be, incorporating SOC technology. In the near future, we expect to see blade server and tape library vendors added to the list.

  • BlueArc will use InSpeed in its Si8000 SiliconServer line
  • Fujitsu is adding SOC to its Eternus3000 Model 600M and has announced it will expand InSpeed to other products in the Eternus3000 line; Fujitsus SBOD applications will use SOC to get individual drive isolation
  • Hewlett-Packard is using SOC in its StorageWorks EVA (Enterprise Virtual Array) storage solutions to isolate storage shelves
  • Network Appliance Inc. plans to use SOC in disk shelves to boost the performance and reliability of NAS products
  • Xyratex has announced its creating an SBOD storage unit
InSpeed SOC, as the name implies, is a specialized chip with the ability to switch as many as 20 ports on a single chip at speeds from 1G bps to 2G bps.

With its small form factor, InSpeed SOC brings the benefits of Fibre Channel switching to smaller devices that are usually connected with a shared architecture.

Most current Fibre Channel storage systems—RAID units and JBOD (just a bunch of disks) setups—have a shared infrastructure. In this design, all drives are connected on a loop with PBCs (port bypass circuits) sitting between the drives to take a failed or malfunctioning drive out of the loop when necessary.

The problem with current shared architectures is that in the event of a double loop failure, the entire array can be knocked out of commission. Furthermore, on a shared architecture, it is difficult to isolate particular drives to perform diagnostic testing.

From a performance point of view, a shared architecture is not desirable because as a system scales up in spindles (hard drives), each drive added also adds latency to the overall network loop.

As storage systems continue to get larger (to stay ahead of the exponential growth rates in stored data), the need for technologies such as Vixels SOC will increase in commensurately dramatic fashion.

Using Vixels technology, RAID and NAS (network-attached storage) vendors can implement the InSpeed SOC to replace the FC-AL (Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop) that links their disks.

Vendors can employ the crossbar switch functionality of the InSpeed SOC to make individual connections to each drive. This essentially converts JBOD storage units into SBOD (switched bunch of disks) storage.

The new design dramatically decreases the number of hops that information is required to make in traveling from each disk to the RAID controller. This results in faster performance by eliminating FC-AL as a traffic bottleneck. When vendors implement InSpeed SOC, they have reported two- and even threefold performance enhancements in a variety of products.

Vixels SOC technology hasnt won over all major switch vendors, however: EMC Corp.s new DMX storage system currently has a switched infrastructure to boost performance.

We expect to see a number of vendors investigating and implementing InSpeed SOC to compete with EMC during the next year or so.

Because the disk arrays of high-end NAS vendors such as BlueArc usually include FC-AL, they are also using InSpeed SOC to boost the performance of their NAS systems.

Another and perhaps more valuable selling point for InSpeed SOC is that the technology makes hard drive monitoring and failure prediction much easier because each drive has a connection to the InSpeed SOC Crossbar switch.

As a result of the switch infrastructure, InSpeed SOC can quickly detect a misbehaving drive and take it out of service before it affects the overall performance of an array.

InSpeed SOCs monitoring and failure management capabilities might also make it a good candidate for products in the tape library market, where an SOC device could string together multiple tape controllers to provide switches that offer faster performance than current technologies.

In addition, server blades are also an interesting place where embedded switches could be seen in the near future. Using InSpeed SOC, server blade vendors might be able to cost-effectively link their blade systems to external Fibre Channel RAID units for storage consolidation.

Senior Analyst Henry Baltazar can be reached at henry_