Brocade, Cisco Craft Their Own Storage Processors

SAN JOSE, Calif. — Fibre Channel switch maker Brocade Communications and Ethernet giant Cisco Systems have developed their own storage processors to handle virtualization on their Fibre Channel switches.

That was the news from Mukund Chavan, a chief hardware architect at Emulex Corp., who considers the OEM in-house ASICs to be among the chief competitors for the AV150 CPU he detailed at the Fall Processor Forum here on Wednesday (Oct. 11).

Word of the OEM ASICs recalls developments several years ago when Cisco helped pioneer the field of network processors with some of its own designs even though a small hoard of net CPU startups were begging for Cisco sockets.

Despite the OEM ASICs, Chavan predicted there will still be a healthy market for merchant storage processors among the top-tier storage array and switch vendors such as EMC, IBM and others. The Emulex AV150 began as a design from startup Aarohi Communications, acquired by Emulex in April. It also competes with devices from startups such as Astute Networks (San Diego) and Ivivity Inc. (Norcross, Ga.).

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Among the distinguishing features in the AV150 are two built-in Fibre Channel MACs. The onboard MACs combined with a rate-matching crossbar switch open the door to packet processing with latencies less than 10 microseconds, Chavan said.

Aarohi developed its own Fibre Channel MACs in house because FC cores are rare among third parties. The exception is LSI Logic. However, the bulk of packet processing work on the chip is handled by a bank of ten ARC A4 cores running at 300 MHz.

The design has been in the works three years in the slowly developing market for storage-area network chips. It is debuting now with support for 2-Gbit Fibre Channel and PCI but lacking the more current 4G FC and PCI Express, interconnects that will be must-haves in the chip's next rev.

Emulex also plans a follow on chip for iSCSI based storage-area networks.