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PMC-Sierra announces NVMe controllers, PCIe storage switches

17 Aug 2015  | Gary Hilson

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Until recently, PCIe hasn't been used much outside of realms in the backplane or server cage, or rack to rack, Wirbel said. "I've always believed PCIe could achieve greater things in topologies almost as big as LANs." The benefits of PMC's specific Switchtec device, he said, is that it integrates SERDES physical-layer interfaces and a high-end MIPS multicore processor. "The latter can offer some pretty advanced programmable features such as multi-host and virtual switch partitions. Some storage networks will get to be pretty complex and hierarchical in the future."


Flashtec supports multiple flash types, including 3D NAND.

Wirbel said few controllers are PCIe-based, and not many have adopted the NVMe protocol, which could be a blessing or a curse. "NVMe seems very useful, but is not yet a true standard," he said. "It's too early to tell if the protocol will win the space."

While NVMe is relatively new and not entirely proven to be the standard going forward, it's gaining ground as vendors ship new SSDs using the specification for both servers and workstations. The NVM Express Work Group decided to incorporate itself last year to further the NVMe specification.

Established as a working group under the guidance of Intel, it released the first NVM Express specification in March 2011. It outlines a standardized register interface, command and feature set for PCIe-based storage technologies such as SSDs, designed specifically for non-volatile memory.

Wirbel said that in most cases, Flashtec won't be competing against other NVMe controllers, but other SATA controllers. "SATA is simply an aging protocol."

PMC-Sierra has always been a leader in SAS and SATA, he added, and by offering two programmable devices based on PCIe, it is entering a new market with a smart strategy; Wirbel believes PCIe will be the dominant architecture everywhere.

Although alternatives to PCIe have emerged, it still has its advantages, particularly its scalability, and there is a roadmap for PCIe for the next several years. Products with gen 3.x will be available roughly from now until 2017, with gen 4 expected by 2018.

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