The First Glimpse of 12 Gbps SAS

Arthur Cole
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Five Data Storage Predictions for 2012

Enterprises have become highly adept at data acceleration, optimization and numerous other tricks designed to improve throughput over existing infrastructure. But at some point, the need for wider pipelines becomes paramount.

The introduction of solid-state technology in the storage array has kicked the drive for large SAS connections into high gear this spring, as vendors fall over themselves to get 12 Gbps products into the channel.

Western Digital's HGST unit and Seagate are scheduled to demo their 12G SAS products at the SCSI Trade Association (STA) Technology Showcase this week, and the similarities are striking. Both devices offer dual-port resiliency and provide built-in support for new 12 Gbps controllers, adapters and related technology from PMC-Sierra and LSI.

And since the 12 G standard is backward-compatible with current 6 G infrastructure, integration into legacy environments should be pretty smooth. Note, however, that the 12 G standard has yet to be finalized, which means neither drive is expected to be available until the middle of next year.

As I mentioned, however, higher bandwidth is not the only way to boost throughput. LSI is also on hand at STA with its new DataBolt system, which the company says delivers 12 G throughput over 6 G infrastructure. The system works by aggregating 6 G and 3 G end devices to provide a 12 G data stream while at the same time providing an intelligent data buffer to match drive and host performance levels. At the show, LSI will showcase the system using 12 Gbps SAS expanders tied to a Xyratex OneStore enclosure housing multiple 6 G and 3 G hard drives and SSDs.

Still, not everyone is impressed by all this high-speed development. Supporters of server-side Flash storage view anything related to storage networking as both a waste of resources and an inherently slow data environment. As Fusion-io's Gary Orenstein put it recently, high-capacity Flash and PCIe provides all the storage and networking that most enterprises will need.

12 Gbps SAS will not be enough. We are ardent supporters of PCIe and native access to PCIe. There are many people for whom a slightly better SATA or SAS device will be helpful. But the broader market will require lower latency, higher bandwidth and better performance from the PCIe bus compared to the SAS protocol.

Of course, there are plenty of entrenched interests in the storage community who say traditional SANs will be with us for some time, so it only makes sense to ensure that they provide as robust an environment as possible as enterprises expand their data footprints into the cloud.

The most direct approach to faster throughput for both SSDs and high-speed disk drives is 12 Gbps SAS. After all, better drive performance is only useful if the rest of the enterprise can experience it as well.

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