LSI doubles storage controller performance and builds out its channel

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Written By: Peter Williams
Published: 28th July, 2009
Content Copyright © 2009 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

LSI is today announcing a new family of RAID controllers under the name MegaRAID. New signalling means a doubling of performance from the current industry max of 3Gb/s to 6Gb/s data transfer speed to/from actual drives (over the same cabling).

This could be game-changing since the controllers are compatible with all major SAS and SATA drive-types and speeds (Seagate, Western Digital, Hitachi, Samsung), as well as SSDs and self-encrypting drives (SEDs), and also with motherboard and chassis suppliers. So LSI is looking for wide deployment on the basis that it will yield an immediate throughput boost.

The company has historically not focused on such self-contained devices; so part of its preparation for launching a whole raft of new products—there are more to follow—has been to build out its worldwide partner and reseller programme so that systems integrators (SIs) and value added resellers and distributors (VARs/VADs) will be able to include them as part of their solutions.

The first five models between them offer a choice of 4 or 8 internal or external ports. Tests have demonstrated 2,875 MB/s read and 1,870 MB/s write speeds, achieving 1 million IOPs. While these raw performance figures represent a step-change, they do not alone reveal the potential significance to the storage and data protection markets.

So consider these figures from IDC; it has recorded a huge rise in modular storage shipments that it estimates as now standing at 10,000 PBs (or 10 Exabytes (EBs)); but IDC also predicts shipments will quadruple to 45 EBs (add 15 zeros!) over the next four years. All this extra data needs to be moved around and replicated.

Right now applications such as video-streaming and database-linked on-line transaction processing (OLTP) are in particular need of more performance; other potential markets include high-performance computing (HPC) and medical imaging. Early adopters who can deliver should gain a performance edge.

Nevertheless, as resellers and SIs will know, new products with different interfacing can prove hard to implement. Suresh Panikar, LSI senior mgr worldwide channel marketing, told me that LSI had worked hard to make the new controllers easy to deploy. "There's no introduction of new behaviour patterns and [the controllers] can be used in any application," he told me.

One reason for this is that LSI's Java-based MegaRAID Storage Manager (MSM) management suite is already mature and familiar to many. It carries advanced problem event notification for administrators and can be deployed remotely so that any MegaRAID controller is visible via the Ethernet. The adapters are self-configuring and cable connections are simplified (using standard mini-SAS connection SFF-8087/8); then longer cables will assist in building and deploying the systems.

Taken together, these features help simplify both RAID volume creation and ongoing maintenance control. Operating systems supported are Windows, Linux and various UNIX flavours.

Panikar explained that SIs and distributors have been qualifying and testing the controllers as the ecosystem builds. In Europe, LSI is working on local language support (initially UK English, German and Russian) and providing 24x7 technical support, especially in Germany. The global roll-out is happening in the Americas and Asia is just beginning.

Of course, such infrastructure investment is not just for a bunch of RAID controllers. "This is the first announcement of many," said Panikar. "And we are going to improve our portfolio for end-users." He said some of this will relate to vertical markets, but we will have to wait to see what actually emerges going forward. It will be very interesting to see the speed of adoption.

Finally, some of the technically-minded may be curious about how this doubling of performance was achieved; I only know that new features include spread spectrum clocking (SSC) and decision feedback equalization (DFE); these have enabled improved usage of existing cabling with enhanced signal integrity.

Note: The LSI storage controllers (MegaRAID 9260-8i, 9260DE-81 and 9260-4i internal 8 and 4ports, 9260-8e and 9260DE-8e external 8 ports) are priced in the US from $389 (4 ports) and $599-$945 (8 ports).

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