Agilent, StarGen Advance ASI

New rollouts highlight interest in Advanced Switching Interconnect as a storage fabric

March 2, 2005

3 Min Read
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Two announcements today reflect growing interest in Advanced Switching Interconnect (ASI), a PCI Express-based method for linking CPUs and other processors in networking, computing, and storage equipment.

As a potential fabric for use in storage devices and networks, ASI could challenge Ethernet and InfiniBand -- that is, if it gets off the ground.

Agilent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: A) and StarGen Inc., both members of the Advanced Switching Interconnect SIG (ASI SIG), are intent on making that happen. They chose this week's Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco to release news of products that conform to the specs the group is addressing:

  • Agilent announced the E2980A, a protocol analyzer and "exerciser" tester for building and verifying chipsets that conform to ASI specs. The new tester, priced from $58,000, can be bought as standalone or as an upgrade to Agilent's E2960A PCI Express analyzer.

  • StarGen announced AXSys, including a Merlin ASI Switch, and the Kestrel ASI to PCIe Host Bridge semiconductor products for OEMs to incorporate in ASI-compatible products, including servers, blade servers, and storage networking gear.

Both of these products are among the first-ever offerings to support ASI, which has been gaining momentum over the past year. Like InfiniBand, ASI is aimed at linking processors and devices in a serial manner. And like nascent 10-Gbit/s Ethernet PCI Express cards, ASI is meant to build on Intel's PCI Express bus architecture for servers and other gear (see 10-GigE Hits Express Lane).

Under the covers, though, there are many questions about how these fabric technologies will actually play out in the market. Though InfiniBand players say ASI and other techniques could be complementary, experts say that's unlikely. InfiniBand already has a strong grip on a key niche, namely high-performance computing (HPC) clusters. That said, if ASI can get the right OEMs in its camp, it could make headway in embedded systems and storage gear.But so far, there have been no ASI chips -- that's what the new products from Agilent and StarGen address.

Just to keep things interesting, there's yet another competing technology: RapidIO, an interconnect fabric for embedded systems, which, along with ASI, is part of a larger effort by the PCI Industrial Computer Manufacturers Group (PICMG) to define an Advanced Telecom Computing Architecture (AdvancedTCA) (see ATCA's at a Fork in the Road). RapidIO has garnered OEM support from a range of vendors, including wireless equipment makers such as Nokia Corp. (NYSE: NOK).

The jury's out on how storage networking vendors will actually support all these specs. But EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) is a steering committee member of the RapidIO Trade Association (RIO), while Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX), Engenio Information Technologies Inc., Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd., and Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW) are part of the ASI SIG.

EMC says it's not playing favorites, though: "There are no barriers for EMC to become a member of ASI-SIG.... Our role in one standards-focused organization vs another should not be viewed as a prognosis on any underlying technologies," writes spokesman Rick Lacroix in an email today.

"Different vendors support multiple initiatives... Is one better than the other? You'd have to go into a lot of second- and third-order checking to find out," says Jag Bolaria of The Linley Group. In his view, it's too soon to judge. Though InfiniBand has found its niche, it will take many months to see how the newer fabric technologies play out in the market.Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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