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Startup joins struggling ranks of 10Gb processors

Posted: 27 Oct 2003 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:ivivity? networking processor? network processors conference? idisx? iscsi?

Startup iVivity Inc. officially joined the ranks of 10Gb storage networking processors, unveiling its architecture at the Network Processors Conference. However, the announcement comes as analysts and observers said the market is growing more slowly than expected, a fact that has already resulted in the demise of at least one company.

The startup's iDisx chip uses an integrated hybrid architecture to provide both a fast path for 10Gbps storage traffic as well as management and application-level acceleration features. The chip does not build in Ethernet or Fibre Channel interfaces, but is clearly geared to a slowly emerging class of Ethernet storage networks using the iSCSI protocol.

The iVivity chip is based around a discrete logic state machine that provides full TCP termination as well as analysis of iSCSI data streams and acceleration for some storage applications such as RAID and virtualization. "Our goal is the I/O goes straight through the state machine to the buffers without being touched by other processors," said Zulfiqar Qazilbash, chief strategy officer of iVivity.

Nevertheless, iDisx includes an OEM-programmable 200MHz MIPS processor running a Linux-based operating system to handle out-of-band control-plane management operations. It also builds in an array of six ARC cores that handle exception processing and let OEMs program low-level data plane operations for quality of service (QoS).

The chip, built in a 130nm process, is expected to tape out this month and hit first silicon in January. It sports two SPI 4.2 interfaces and a 133MHz PCI-X interface and fits in an approximately 10-by-10 mm die. Pricing for the part has not yet been set.

The company is already supplying an early version of its software including its own low and high-level applications programming interfaces.

The 45-person company was formed in November 2000 and closed a $13M B-series funding round in July. It plans one more funding round next year to take it to revenue in late 2004 when it expects first systems using the chip could emerge.

Qazilbash said iDisx has a confirmed design win with one RAID maker and a diverse group of six other OEMs evaluating the part. However, the outlook for storage networks based on Ethernet and iSCSI is unclear at best.

An upcoming generation of 4Gbps Fiber Channel chips and the fact that Microsoft Corp. won't natively support the TCP offload needed for iSCSI in its Windows Server OS until about 2005 has some people backtracking on plans for iSCSI silicon. Hence, Fiber Channel leader Agilent Technologies shifted design resources away from iSCSI and into 4Gb Fiber Channel silicon recently, said Erik Ottem, marketing director for Agilent's storage networking division.

Trebia Networks, an early iSCSI chip startup, recently closed its doors, according to several sources. Phones at Trebia's headquarters are no longer working. Trebia rolled out its 2Gbps SNP-1000 and -500 chips a year ago at a cost of $335 in volume. The company had anticipated a final funding round in 2003.

Qazilbash said Trebia's parts arrived before the market was ready for the move to iSCSI and were too slow for the current push to come out with 10Gb-capable systems in early 2005. "[Storage array leader] EMC Corp. just came out with support for iSCSI. There wasn't any market for this just six months ago," he said.

"We don't see any corporate deployments of iSCSI-based storage networks until 2005-6," said Linley Gwennap, principal of market watcher The Linley Group. "However, we do see some smaller companies might move more quickly," he added.

"We have been shipping a 10Gb storage processor for more than a year," said Fazil Osman, CTO for startup Astute Networks, speaking at a panel discussion here. "OEMs say they all want 10G, but the question is when," he added.

"There are real RFQs [requests for quotes] for iSCSI by major storage OEMs," said Jeff Blaalid, CTO of iStor Networks Inc., which plans to ship a 10Gb storage network CPU early next year. Currently Asia and Europe are stronger end markets for such products than the U.S., where Fiber Channel holds sway, he added.

Marc Acosta, technical director of Aristos Logic, said other interfaces including 6Gb serial-attached SCSI and 8Gb Fiber Channel are also on the road map. "I think the 4-, 6- and 8Gb interfaces will all have a role, and that will muddy the waters," said Acosta.

- Rick Merritt

EE Times

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