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Emulex stands alone with FC-SATA switch

Beth Pariseau, News Writer

Emulex Corp. announced it has released a new embedded switch that is built on the new Fibre Channel to SATA

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(FC-SATA) protocol ratified last Wednesday by the ANSI T11 standards committee. The new specification provides for a direct connection between Fibre Channel and SATA disks and is the result of an effort spearheaded by Emulex last June.

Following the ratification of the standard, Emulex announced a new embedded switch, the InSpeed SOC 432, which will allow for SATA disks to be directly connected within pre-existing Fibre Channel enclosures. The specification does not provide for direct communication between discrete devices, and according to Emulex's vice president of marketing, Mike Smith, there are no plans to extend it to that level.

"The real value proposition here is that it will enable users to leverage existing Fibre Channel infrastructure with lower cost disk," Smith said.

Both Emulex and Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) officials were tight-lipped when it came to which of Emulex's OEMs or competitors, if any, will come out with a product based on the new specification and when. Neither Smith nor the FCIA spokesperson and Engenio Storage Group alliance manager, Thomas Hammond-Doel, would say whether or not products based on the new standard from other vendors will hit the market.

Analysts have expressed skepticism that this specification would see broad acceptance in the industry. With most industry standards, according to Arun Taneja, founder and analyst with the Taneja Group, five or more big players in the market tend to lead to better adoption. Taneja pointed out that Emulex has only one real competitor in QLogic Corp.

"The problem is there are only two players in that market," he told SearchStorage.com in September. "And they hate each other. Why should QLogic ever do something that makes Emulex look good?"

QLogic officials did not return requests for comment on this story as of press time.

According to Greg Schulz, founder and analyst with the StorageIO Group, the new standard will require broader support in the industry. "It'll be interesting to see who they land [as partners]," Schulz said. "This is nothing; a normal person is just going to deploy off the shelf -- it requires OEM wins."

Meanwhile, some other experts remain optimistic that the FC-SATA technology will ultimately find its way to end users. "I expect that we'll see storage systems with Emulex Fibre Channel-SATA silicon inside in the next couple quarters," said Brian Garrett, technical director of the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG) Lab. "We've already seen large-scale adoption of storage systems with Fibre Channel and SATA using bridging technology. This is a more elegant and affordable means of providing tiered Fibre Channel and SATA storage."

The dual-port issue

One potential drawback to the new specification, according to David Reinsel, director, storage research at IDC, is that it does not provide a way to support dual-port communication for high availability on the SATA side without the need for interposer cards.

"In the end, I think redundancy in Fibre Channel-based systems is a primary requirement, hence dual port [infrastructures]," Reinsel wrote to SearchStorage.com in an email. "[FATA] and [FC-SATA interposers] … give you dual port, while [the new specification] does not."

As for the new specification, "it tightens up some of the weak points of the SATA protocol but doesn't resolve the dual-port requirement," Reinsel said.

"All SATA drives are single ported," responded Smith in an email to SearchStorage. "Regardless of whether you are using FC or SAS to access your SATA drive, an interposer card (with a MUX) is required to achieve dual-ported access -- this is due to a physical limitation in the design of the SATA drive."