LSI doubles storage controller performance and builds out its channel

Written By: Peter Williams
Published:
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 24×7 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).