Another step toward 10 Gig SANs

New switch from startup Woven Systems spells trouble for both FC and Ethernet competitors

Sometimes in my work, things just seem to fall in place, as if someone were pulling the strings behind the scenes. I am not suggesting that there is any conspiracy here, but last week's column on FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet), a new proposed standard to consolidate transport for both FC (Fibre Channel) and Ethernet, was a great segue into this week's announcement of a new 10 Gigabit Ethernet switch from Woven Systems.

[ MarioApicella's column is now a blog! Get the latest storage news from the Storage Adviser blog. ]

What's so special about the new switch? In a nutshell, the EFX 1000 promises a low-latency, very reliable 10 Gig fabric that should cost a fraction of the price of current solutions and is open to a future move to 100 Gigabit Ethernet. (Yes, that's 100 -- I had to ask twice myself to be sure I understood correctly.)

The common ground between this announcement from Woven Systems and FCoE is the central role that 10 Gig will play in the datacenter. But do we really need yet another 10 Gig switch? And doesn't 100 Gig exist just on paper at the moment?

The answer to the second question is obviously yes, but here's what Woven Systems had to say about the first question: "As servers become more powerful, they will need 10 Gig, but the switches on the market today are too expensive and are not optimized for datacenter operations," explains Derek Granath, vice president of marketing for Woven Systems.

Granath says that current switches are based on old architectures and weren't quite designed to be part of a fabric. He also points out some major shortcomings, including high latency (which means supporting data transfers with costly large memory buffers), an expensive price per port, and high energy consumption.

By contrast, Granath says the EFX 1000 will cost 80 percent less than similarly configured competitors and have just as moderate energy and space requirements. The new switch deploys innovative technology that can maintain wire speed transfers when fully configured with 144 10 Gig ports. As for those 100 Gig claims, when it begins shipping the EFX 1000 should be able to support up to 96 ports on the same chassis, according to Woven Systems spokesfolk.

Sounds like good investment protection, but what's inside the switch? Count on having multiple redundant power supply modules and cooling fans in 10U of rack space, plus the ability to mount up to 12 cards, each hosting a dozen 10 Gig ports.

According to Woven Systems, the EFX 1000 should be able to control a fabric of 4,000 ports, keeping the external latency at or below 4 microseconds. The latency is even less for internal ports, coming in at 1.5 microseconds.

Here's how the switch takes advantage of the extremely low latency: Each of those 12 cards mounts three proprietary ASIC that keep a careful watch on traffic. They immediately divert (in 10 milliseconds or less, Woven explains) data to an alternate route if there is a link failure or even a slowdown on the primary path. 

The EFX 1000's expected price is a surprisingly affordable $1,500 per port. Moreover, customers shouldn't have to suddenly depreciate previous investments because the switch is compatible with other gear, including 10 Gig switches from other vendors.

There is little I didn't like about the EFX 1000. On paper, it should give competing solutions a run for their money, but in the cutthroat storage world, the best -- or the most promising, I should say -- product doesn’t always prevail. Regardless, I can't wait to see how other vendors will respond.

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