Adaptec Adapts, Inovates Around SSDs

I've been saying for months that it will take several years for the industry to fully integrate flash memory into the storage ecosystem. I expected innovation from startups and upstarts like Compellent and Fusion-IO and was surprised when Adaptec started rolling out innovative uses for flash on their internal RAID controllers.

Howard Marks

September 10, 2009

2 Min Read
Network Computing logo

Way back in the twentieth century Adaptec was the dominant supplier ofparallel SCSI HBAs and chipsets for SCSI on motherboards. They thenbranched out into server RAID controllers that competed with somesuccess against AMI's MegaRAID and Mylex, both with OEMs and users.

But for a while, Adaptec seemed to have losttheir way. Even before the switchover to SAS/SATA on servermotherboards, most of the major OEMs shifted to LSI chipsets. As LSIbought up Mylex and the MegaRAID line, Adaptec took their eye off themarket that was paying their bills. They tried to move up the foodchain from component and card supplier by introducing iSCSI appliances andbuying subsystem vendors including Eurologic and the much traveled SnapServer group.

Now, not only has Adaptec decided to return to HBAsand RAID controllers, but starting in June, theybegan using flash and an ultra capacitors to protect the RAM cache ontheir new controllers. Adaptec has returned to leading the market rather thanfollowing. 

As a consultant, I've dealt with way too many panicked callsfrom system administrators when they have an Insight Manger orOpenManage message that the battery on their RAID controller  was dyingor needed reconditioning. I therefore love the idea of a long-lived ultra capacitor that provides enough juice to dump the cache to flashin the event of a power failure, rather than hoping the battery willlast until the power is restored. I was expecting a SAN array vendor toadd this feature, but Adaptec got there first.

Now  Adaptec'sMaxIQ , like Sun's OpenStorage's ReadZilla or NetApp's upcoming PAM II,uses flash as a huge read cache. A single Adaptec RAID controller withthe MaxIQ software upgrade can use up to 4 32GB Intel X-25E SLC flashdrives as a transparent cache.Data is written to cache anddisk in parallel, ensuring there's no additional risk to data. Unlike products that assign a LUN to a SSD that is used as a cache, system administrators don't have to identify their hotdata, move it to a separate LUN and then update their backup system toinclude the new data source. Caching can be enabled or disabled on alogical volume basis but there isn't much other opportunity to finetune.

Organizations using Windows or Linux servers as file orWeb 2.0 repositories should see a significant boost as frequentlyaccessed disk locations like the file system directories will be cachedleaving disk IOPS for data and reducing disk thrashing.

Fromwhere I sit, MaxIQ is a big step forward for the PCI controller market,and frankly I wasn't expecting anything like this from Adaptec or LSI,until 2011 or so. Hopefully we'll see more innovation in the months tocome so users can get the benefits of flash without a professionalservices engagement.

About the Author(s)

Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

Howard Marks</strong>&nbsp;is founder and chief scientist at Deepstorage LLC, a storage consultancy and independent test lab based in Santa Fe, N.M. and concentrating on storage and data center networking. In more than 25 years of consulting, Marks has designed and implemented storage systems, networks, management systems and Internet strategies at organizations including American Express, J.P. Morgan, Borden Foods, U.S. Tobacco, BBDO Worldwide, Foxwoods Resort Casino and the State University of New York at Purchase. The testing at DeepStorage Labs is informed by that real world experience.</p><p>He has been a frequent contributor to <em>Network Computing</em>&nbsp;and&nbsp;<em>InformationWeek</em>&nbsp;since 1999 and a speaker at industry conferences including Comnet, PC Expo, Interop and Microsoft's TechEd since 1990. He is the author of&nbsp;<em>Networking Windows</em>&nbsp;and co-author of&nbsp;<em>Windows NT Unleashed</em>&nbsp;(Sams).</p><p>He is co-host, with Ray Lucchesi of the monthly Greybeards on Storage podcast where the voices of experience discuss the latest issues in the storage world with industry leaders.&nbsp; You can find the podcast at:

Stay informed! Sign up to get expert advice and insight delivered direct to your inbox
More Insights