Intel: Storage Needs a Shrink

New servers replace three storage chips with two, Intel says, and soon there'll be just one

August 3, 2004

3 Min Read
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Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC) thinks the future of storage is small -- small businesses, that is. By shrinking the size and number of processors required to link its new line of servers to storage gear, it's hoping to make direct-attached storage available to more SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) and consumers.

You read that right: In an odd departure from the party line that storage networking will be all about SANs in the future, Intel is saying that direct-attached storage (DAS) is taking off as never before.

Using improved storage processors announced today, Intel says its servers (as well as servers from OEMs using Intel's server boards) can be easily hooked to all kinds of storage gear, giving end users the means to tack storage arrays directly to their servers. The result will be "storage networking for the masses."

It's a vision embraced by some early developers. "The market data we've seen indicates that, though there is more revenue in NAS, the actual numbers for DAS are not going down," says Jim Schrand, VP of marketing at Wasabi Systems Inc., which has written a version of the Unix-compatible NetBSD operating system for the new processors.

Intel has included new IOP332 Storage I/O Processors in the Xeon-based servers it announced today (see Intel Releases New Servers). The processors have integral RAID5 capabilities and link directly to that part of the server that controls I/O to external storage gear, such as disk arrays (formerly, a separate bridge chip was required).Intel says the new IOP322, which upgrades the vendor's IOP321 chipset, uses a PCI Express connection into and out of the server, substantially improving throughput between storage kit and the server.

"We think this chipset is substantially faster, but we know there are all kinds of variables," says director of marketing Michael Ludgate. He says the new processor can triple the performance of server-to-storage connections, even though Intel officially claims only that performance improves about 15 percent in systems that don't have significant bottlenecks.

While Intel is singing the virtues of storage for the masses right now, upcoming developments could change its marketing tune a bit, relative to storage. Intel is planning to move an eight-port storage controller directly into the chipset by 2005 -- a project called "Sunrise Lake" that it's working on with Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX), with which it inked a development agreement last year (see Intel, Emulex Join at the Chip).

The new chip with controller capabilities, tentatively set to appear sometime in 2005 or 2006, will shrink the number of storage processor chips per server from two to one and make it possible for each server to support a range of storage interfaces, including Fibre Channel, SAS, and SATA. (For now, the IOP332 works with Fibre Channel adapters from Emulex.)

The Sunrise Lake chipset will also likely boost the growth of Intel's Xeon server boards in blade-server designs, where disk arrays could be linked to a number of external server modules.Notably, there is no joint effort between Intel and Emulex to create any kind of iSCSI support for Intel's storage processors, as some originally thought. Indeed, Emulex appears to have abandoned iSCSI in favor of Fibre Channel (see Fibre Channel: HBA Hog Heaven and Emulex Slaps iSCSI).

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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