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PMC-Sierra announces NVMe controllers, PCIe storage switches

17 Aug 2015  | Gary Hilson

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PMC-Sierra has recently rolled out a couple of solutions that leverage NVM Express (NVMe) and PCI Express (PCIe) technologies, using the Flash Memory Summit as the launch pad: its second-generation Flashtec NVMe controllers and Switchtec PSX PCIe storage switches.

As more NVMe-capable SSDS debut and the protocol gains traction, more controllers are hitting the market to allow storage infrastructures to get the most from these drives. In the meantime, PCIe is seeing more adoption in storage applications

The latest Flashtec NVMe2032 and NVMe2016 controllers integrate DDR4 DRAM to get the most throughput and reduce bottlenecks, according to the company. Summit, David Allen, director of product marketing for PMC-Sierra's performance storage products, said the Flashtec controllers can handle a wide variety of NAND for the next 10 years, including 3D, TLC, MLC and SLC with Toggle or ONFI interfaces, as well as TSV implementations.

Allen said SATA has been prevalent for "low cost, reasonable performance applications," but Flashtec controllers are focused on consistent low latency for enterprise and hyperscale environments, including NV-DRAM applications. He said the NVMe ecosystem has grown to provide a great deal of flexibility for customers and a broad range of drivers for Windows, Linux and Solaris.

Historically, said Allen, PCIe was not built for storage, but the combination of Switchtec storage switches and Flashtec controllers will allow enterprises to more reliably scale SSD performance using PCIe within data center environments. The Flashtec controller can support more than 20TB of flash capacity, 16TB flash capacity using 256Gb flash density; however, IOPS would suffer at that top end, he said. Meanwhile, a Switchtec switch can reliably pool a large number of PCIe drives.

Switchtec storage switch

PMC-Sierra said its single chip Switchtec storage switch can support a 40 SSD array.

Loring Wirbel, senior analyst at The Linley Group, said PMC's Switchtec was the first PCIe switch optimised for storage networks that he had seen, noting that Mellanox is merging Infiniband and Ethernet switching in products which could offer PCIe interfaces. He said the benefits of Switchtec and Flashtec being based on PCIe is that it is a very flexible standard, and in some ways, even more so than Ethernet switches. "Ethernet is the broadest standard, but not really ideal as a system switch."

Mellanox and PMC-Sierra also announced a combination of Mellanox PeerDirect RDMA and PMC Flashtec NVRAM Drives that enable peer-to-peer transactions directly between PCIe devices, freeing up the CPU and DDR bus. They also demonstrated NVMe over RDMA using the Flashtec NVRAM Drive's NVMe interface and Mellanox's ConnectX-3 Pro network card.

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