Switch-on-a-chip liberates Fibre Channel arrays

Emulex plans to release a switch-on-a-chip today that will let storage suppliers develop devices that can mix and match Fibre...

Emulex plans to release a switch-on-a-chip today that will let storage suppliers develop devices that can mix and match Fibre Channel disc arrays with different performance characteristics. The switch also allows users to upgrade storage without throwing out existing systems.

Jed Dobson, a system architect at Dartmouth College, said he liked the idea of switching between Fibre Channel arrays performing at different levels within the same enclosure, because it would let him tailor storage service levels to end-users according to how critical the data was.

Dobson has about 12Tbytes of storage on Sun arrays and his switches serve up 1-2Gbps Fibre Channel throughput.

"My next purchase of Fibre Channel switches will probably be in the 4Gbps range, so the new chip is attractive," said Dobson. "I have about 64 ports of 2Gbps Fibre Channel storage, so I'd probably want to keep those because it was a pretty big cost."

IDC analyst Rick Villars said Emulex's FibreSpy SOC 804 family of embedded storage switches would give suppliers and users more flexibility, especially in larger storage arrays where there can be hundreds of discs that aren't always immediately populated. Users could continue to expand the arrays as disc technology developed, he said.

"Long-term end-users will have the option to use a lower-cost disc subsystem," Villars said. "You replace the controller and the disc and the switches, but you don't have to pull the whole box out."

Bob Brencic, senior director of switch marketing at Emulex, said the chips came with four Fibre Channel ports each but could be configured in five-chip clusters for up to 20 ports in a single storage enclosure.

Brencic said the switched chip also let array manufacturers break Fibre Channel's 126-device barrier to allow thousands of disc drives to be attached to storage controllers in boxes.

He added that the internal switching would also simplify storage management because IT administrators could use the native management tools of the array instead of having to deal with external switch management tools. "OEMs can build those storage management tools right into the chip," he said.

Lucas Mearian writes for Computerworld

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