Microchip Targets Data Centers With RAID-on-chip in PCIe Storage Controller
As data centers continue to be overworked, a new smart storage platform from Microchip claims to offer 3x performance over the competition. However, what technology is this solution packing?
As the world continually adopts data-intensive technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), Internet of Things (IoT), and cloud computing, our data centers are being put under immense strain.
Engineers have been left with the daunting challenge of storing, managing, and transferring enormous amounts of data while maintaining high performance and low power consumption.
A high-level look at some components in a data center. Image used courtesy of ITU and WEEE Forum
One solution comes from Microchip, which recently announced a new technology with its new 24G SAS/PCIe Gen 4 Tri-mode Storage Controllers for the data center.
This article will discuss the underlying technologies and what Microchip’s new solution brings to the table.
Data Center Interfaces: SAS, SATA, and NVMe
Before diving into Microchip's latest solution, it's important to briefly consider that, to handle the massive amounts of data in today’s data centers, engineers rely on various interfaces and technologies.
On the interface side, three of the most important technologies are SAS, SATA, and NVMe.
SAS, which stands for Serial Attached SCSI (small computer system interface), is a legacy interface meant for data transfer with external storage drives. This technology accounts for roughly a third of all shipped solid-state drive (SSD) exabytes and is preferable for enterprise storage which combines hard disk drives (HDDs) and SSDs.
Similarly, Serial ATA (SATA) is a relatively newer technology (2000) designed explicitly to connect an SSD, HDD, or optical drive to a PC.
SATA transfer rates max out at 600 MB/s for their third-generation technology, making it a good choice for most consumers but is quickly becoming too slow for high-end data center applications.
An NVMe architecture. Image used courtesy of NVMe Express
Finally, there is NVMe or non-volatile memory express. NVMe is the newest of the three technologies and was designed as storage access and transport protocol meant specifically for flash and next-generation solid-state drives (SSDs).
To reach the highest bandwidth and throughput possible, NVMe accesses flash storage through a PCIe bus which supports thousands of parallel command queues.
Altogether NVMe is 8x faster than SATA but is the most expensive and suffers from legacy incompatibilities.
Now that we've talked about the general basics of data center interfaces, let's take a look at another important aspect of data center technology that plays a part in Microchip's solution.
RAID and RAID-on-Chip
Beyond interfaces, one of the most critical data center technologies is the redundant array of independent disks (RAID).
RAID is a virtual disk technology that combines multiple physical drives into one unit.
The result of this is that all of the disparate memories in a data center can be combined into one larger, virtual memory, making for faster and more efficient data accessing and creating redundancy.
Software RAID implementation. Image used courtesy of Adaptec
Though RAID can be implemented either in software or hardware, the difference is that RAID is implemented entirely in software or as a hybrid for software implementation. In contrast, for hardware RAID, the solution has its own processor and memory to run the RAID application.
As RAID has grown more popular for data centers, engineers started developing RAID-on-Chip (ROC).
As the name implies, ROC is a hardware RAID where a single motherboard chip integrates the host interface, HDD I/O interfaces, the RAID processor, and a memory controller.
The benefits of ROC are higher levels of protection as a hardware solution and lower cost due to increased integration on a single piece of silicon.
With ROC in mind, Microchip aims to leverage this technology in its latest data center solution.
Microchip’s SmartROC and SmartIOC Solutions
As mentioned, late last week, Microchip announced its new 24G SAS/PCIe Gen 4 Tri-mode Storage Controllers for the data center. This new offering consists of the SmartROC 3200 and the SmartIOC 2200 products.
Example SmartROC 3200 use case. Image used courtesy of Microchip
The SmartROC solution is a hardware RAID-on-Chip solution that offers support for up to 8 GB of onboard cache, which Microchip claims triples RAID performance compared to alternatives.
The SmartIOC, on the other hand, is a family of Input/Output controller solutions that are meant for high security, high-performance memory management. The SmartIOC 2100 archives up to 1.6 M IOPS for PM8242 and up to 6.9 GB/s bandwidth.
Both solutions are tri-model storage controllers, which means they offer support for SAS, SATA, and NVMe. Both support x8 and x16 PCIe Gen 4 host interfaces and up to 32 lanes of SAS/SATA/NVMe connectivity and leverage technologies such as Dynamic Channel Multiplexing to achieve nearly 100% efficient bandwidth aggregation for SAS or SATA.
All in all, Microchip's controllers aim to push data center connectivity up a notch.
Featured image used courtesy of Microchip
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