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iStor unveils ASIC for iSCSI storage arrays

Posted: 22 Apr 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:istor networks? iblade? iscsi storage array? isnp8000? asic?

Two brothers with separate backgrounds in storage and networking have teamed up to craft an ASIC-based adapter card that could handle 10Gb iSCSI traffic for storage arrays. iStor Networks Inc. is aiming at low-cost arrays on Ethernet links to enable a market for storage networks underneath the price umbrella of today's Fibre Channel systems.

The startup's iBlade card could handle from one to eight GbE ports or one 10GbE port. Each card connects to up to 16 drives, and with expander cards can control up to 128 serial ATA disks. However the card could also be used with SCSI or Fibre Channel drives.

The cards, expected to be ready for OEM beta testing by October, could sell for $1,000 to $2,000 depending on configuration. That's still half to a third of the price for similar Fibre Channel cards, said Simon Huang, president and co-founder of iStor. What's more serial ATA drives can cost as little as a quarter of the price of Fibre Channel drives, he added.

At the core of iStor's card is a 40-by-40mm, 3-million gate ASIC made by Toshiba in a 130nm process. The so-called iSNP8000 ASIC provides for TCP termination and off-load as well as iSCSI processing for disk arrays.

The ASIC contains eleven customized ARC processors, an 128-bit VLIW engine and a full state machine as well as memory controllers and peripherals. Two 128-bit memory interfaces provide up to 40Gbps of memory bandwidth for the chip.

The ASIC requires as much as 4GB memory to handle file-based storage processing. For block storage processing, OEMs can scale back to 256MB RAM.

Inside the ASIC, eight ARC CPUs are dedicated to storage processing tasks, and three handle networking protocols. One 10Gb and eight 1GbE MACs are also on board.

The card can be programmed through an on board Motorola PowerPC management processor. The card will support the SMI applications programming interface for storage management. The startup is considering designing versions of the board using Pentium or StrongARM processors and other management APIs for certain OEM requests.

Simon Huang had worked on concepts for clustering servers with SCSI as far back as the early '90's. "At that time it was a pretty big challenge, so when the iSCSI protocol work came around we were pretty excited," he said.

In 2001 Simon and his brother Frank were both in between ventures after they sold off separate companies. Simon had sold interface chipmaker CMD Technologies, where he was CEO to Silicon Image for $45 million, while Frank had sold Vertex Networks, a maker of Layer 3 Ethernet switches, to Mitel for $220 million.

The duo gathered a team of 38 people including a number of former colleagues from days at board maker Emulex and defunct PC maker AST Research. The team raised $11 million in an initial round of funding and expects to raise another $10-$15 million in a B series in September.

The company will go up against a host of storage networking startups including Astute Networks, Trebia Networks, and Silverback Systems. Many of them are crafting very similar ASICs based on state machines, general purpose CPUs or arrays of custom processors.

Perhaps more importantly, a number of well-established competitors such as Adaptec, Agilent and LSI Logic have launched or are developing their own ASICs and adapter cards to bring iSCSI to servers and disk arrays. Last week Intel and Emulex announced they had teamed up to develop a family of storage networking chips targeted at Fibre Channel, serial ATA, and serial-attached SCSI.

Indeed, the move to storage networking over Ethernet and iSCSI remains one of the long term emerging growth areas of this sector. But neither analysts nor iStor executives believe design wins will begin to roll until the middle of next year while much of the market's current growth remains in Fibre Channel.

The Intel/Emulex deal this year and Cisco Systems Inc.'s move into Fibre Channel storage networking last year both highlight that fact, said Sean Lavey, senior analyst with International Data Corp. "iSCSI is still small potatoes in the scheme of things. It's a relatively small opportunity with most work at the testing stage," Lavey said.

IDC estimates only a few thousand ports of iSCSI products will ship this year while the brunt of storage networking is on Fibre Channel experiencing 25-30 percent port growth this year.

In this arena, iStor hopes to demonstrate its capabilities to a handful of top storage OEMs in May using emulation boards with seven high-end Xilinx FPGAs. If all goes well, the company will tapeout its chip after those demos and see first silicon by July with working boards in OEMs' hands by October.

In the meantime, the company is keeping its power dry. The startup is running at a burn rate of just $500,000/month, said Simon Huang. The startup has also attracted Wen-Chi Chen, president and CEO of VIA Technologies and Sam Liang, president of D-Link Corp. as board members.

- Rick Merritt

EE Times

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