Emulex Analyst Reports on FibreSpy


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 ::: Emulex Fibre Channel Switches  

Emulex is the computer industry's preeminent source for a broad range of advanced storage networking infrastructure solutions

Emulex Analyst Reports on FibreSpy

Emulex FibreSpy - Switching the Game




December 30, 2004


Brian Garrett


Emulex FibreSpy: Switching the Game

Abstract: FibreSpy is a recently announced embedded storage switch on a chip from Emulex. FibreSpy strengthens Emulex’s market leading position as a switched back-end provider and enables the extension of simplicity and savings of switching on a chip to the front-end of storage controllers and server blade chassis.

Emulex Solidifies Market Position

Emulex, a market leading vendor of Fibre Channel host bus adapters and embedded storage switches recently announced the FibreSpy SOC 804 family of embedded storage switches. Like the successful InSpeed product line from Emulex, FibreSpy can be used for a speedy, reliable and highly available connection between the back end of a storage controller and hard disk drives. ESG predicted the success of switched back end storage controller architectures and has watched as Emulex took the lead in the market. Partners including Network Appliance and IBM used InSpeed chips to create storage systems with a clear performance and availability edge over previous generation implementations based on a shared arbitrated loop. The FibreSpy family extends Emulex’s technical lead in back-end switching over recent market entrants including AMCC and Broadcom while simultaneously opening up new market opportunities by providing switched support for the front end of storage controllers and server blades.



Targeting New Markets

Eight of the top ten storage vendors have migrated over 3 million ports from arbitrated loop to an InSpeed powered switched-back-end. Just as Emulex extended market dominance in Fibre Channel host bus adapters into a new market with the InSpeed product line, FibreSpy extends the benefits of switching on a chip from switched-back-ends to switched-front-ends and into the emerging market for server blades.


Fibre Channel adoption is pushing down into the Small to Medium Business (SMB) market. Internal and direct attached storage is typically used instead of Fibre Channel in the SMB market. The high cost and complexity of Fibre Channel has been a barrier which blocked the SMB market from realizing the connectivity and productivity savings of a shared storage network. That is until now. A storage controller with an embedded switch on the front end can connect to many servers without going through an external switch. Getting rid of the external switch reduces cost and complexity. This increases the potential for Fibre Channel to be adopted in the low end of the SMB market while increasing the addressable market for Emulex – all at the expense of the entry level external switch vendors including Brocade and McData.


FibreSpy also enables Emulex to strengthen its presence in the emerging server blade market. Server blades are a challenge when it comes to storage. A hard drive for the local storage needs of each server blade creates space, power and cooling challenges. Access to a shared pool of storage from each server blade can be problematic and expensive. A Fibre Channel storage blade based on FibreSpy chips is a provocative means of solving both problems – boot through a FibreSpy switch on a chip and gain access to shared external storage. This option enables many server blades to connect to a storage area network through, in essence, a switch-on-a-blade. Instead of adding a Fibre Channel chip or host bus adapter to each blade and then accessing the storage area network through an external switch, a switch-on-a-blade approach enables each server blade to access a storage network through a shared switch located within the server blade chassis. Once again this reduces cost and complexity and reduces the need for an external switch.


iSCSI is emerging as a viable alternative to Fibre Channel for entry level storage area networking. iSCSI reduces cost and complexity by using a general purpose Ethernet network instead of a Fibre Channel storage network to carry data traffic. For Fibre Channel to increase SMB market share and respond to the threat of iSCSI, reduced cost and improved ease of use are imperative. FibreSpy chips in a switched-front-end, a switch-back-end or a switch-on-a-blade enables systems and storage vendors to increase Fibre Channel penetration in the SMB market while cost effectively competing with iSCSI.


The Product

Emulex secured InSpeed switched-back-end design wins due to increased performance, reliability and availability vs. standard arbitrated loop. Moving from arbitrated loop to a switched back end architecture improves performance by eliminating traffic jams that can occur when multiple conversations take place on a FC loop. Using a switched dual port connection to drives provides better fault tolerance, error isolation and recovery. FibreSpy enhances switched-back-end connectivity with SuperScalar Tiered Storage and “speed agile” 4 Gbps FC support.

FibreSpy chips can be connected together using its SPI-4.2 interface to create highly scalable configurations from 4 to 20 Fibre Channel ports based on the number of ports required. Up to 375 drives can be controlled per FibreSpy chip, and when connected together thousands of drives can be connected via multiple FibreSpy’s behind a single controller. This ability to connect chips together, which Emulex refers to as “SuperScalar Tiered Storage” extends drive support into the thousands and shatters the theoretical 125 device limit of arbitrated loop in the storage system back-end.


Each Fibre Channel port on a FibreSpy chip can handle negotiated connections to tiers of drives running at different speeds. Emerging performance focused SBODs running at 4 Gbps can run alongside legacy 2 Gbps or capacity optimized (e.g. FATA drives) SBODs and 1 Gbps drive based SBODs. This capability, which Emulex refers to as “speed agility”, enables an entry level low cost tray of drives to connect to Just a Bunch of Disk (JBOD) with a Switched Bunch of Disk (SBOD) supporting tiered levels of storage. Patent pending fairness and prioritization algorithms ensure equal access and opportunity for all switched drives to the storage controller

The Bottom Line

ESG is impressed by the success and market dominance of Emulex at the extreme edges of the storage area network - inside servers in the form of host bus adapters and within storage controllers as a switched back-end. The FibreSpy announcement strengthens Emulex’s position as the switched back-end provider of choice. With fierce market battles and brutal pricing pressure in the switch and HBA markets, Emulex decided to attack from new and provocative fronts – enabling server blades to cost effectively attach to storage and switching the front end of storage controllers. A switched front-end on an entry level storage controller can eliminate the need for a switch while increasing the number of servers that can connect to a single storage array. Eliminating the switch and moving switch management inside the storage subsystem reduces the cost and complexity of implementing a Fibre Channel SAN – which is exactly what is needed in small to medium sized businesses to lure users away from the direct attached storage model and to compete with the low infrastructure cost of iSCSI.


The chip has the potential to upset the entry-level switch segment dominated by Brocade, with ripple effects through Q-Logic and McData. It also lowers the cost of the SAN significantly at the low-end which means more users have an alternative to low-cost iSCSI based SANs – something traditional channels will like since they make more margin dollars on fibre based arrays. Fifteen percent of Emulex’s revenues are now InSpeed based – and the FibreSpy has the potential to dramatically increase that, while keeping would be competitors like Broadcom at bay for another product generation. All in all, it should be yet another boon for Emulex.

© Copyright 2005.
*Price and availabilities subject to change without any notice. Not responsible for typographical errors.


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