Broadcom bets on SATA RAID

The Broadcom-RAIDCore acquisition bears some tasty fruit in the BC4000 SATA RAID controller

With all the events that are making 2004 an incredible year for storage, you may have missed yet another acquisition that happened in January: Broadcom bought RAIDCore, a startup specializing in RAID software.

Giving a comprehensive and fair summary of Broadcom's numerous specialties in just one sentence is not easy. Let me try by saying that its chips are embedded in numerous devices, including telecom, networking, storage, and wireless equipment, used both in the office and at home.

Curious about how the relationship between the two vendors began? According to Mark Taylor, previously with RAIDCore and now Broadcom's director of RAID marketing, "Broadcom and [RAIDCore] were calling on the same prospects at the same time and were hearing almost the same thing," he says.

"Broadcom was hearing, 'Great silicon, where is your software?' And when we talked to the same people they would say, 'Great software, where is your hardware?' " Taylor says.

After an initial technological exchange, it became clear immediately that by acquiring RAIDCore, Broadcom would be able to offer its OEMs a more comprehensive solution, and that the RAIDCore software would benefit from a larger hardware deployment base.

Now fast forward to July when, only months after the acquisition, Broadcom announced the first product based on technology from both companies: a SATA controller that blends the Broadcom chip and the software RAID stack from RAIDCore.

The new BC4000 SATA RAID controllers maintain RAIDCore as the product line name, and are offered both in 4-port and 8-port configurations on a low-profile 64-bit, PCI-X HBA.

"We are the only low-profile compliant card for 8-channel SATA on the market," Taylor says, adding that the benefit for integrators is that the new Broadcom product should fit well in low-profile, 2U cases.

At an estimated $365 for the 8-port model and around $289 for the 4-port, the price is certainly competitive. But in scanning its specs, I noticed that the new RAID controller has more than just a low price to appeal to OEMs and customers.

For example, Broadcom claims an exceptional 3.5 million hours MTBF (mean time between failures), which together with the ability to deploy as many as four spanning controllers on the same servers should create a reasonably safe harbor for SMB data.

Can't remember what spanning controllers are? Imagine having to extend a logical volume when all the SATA ports on the controller are already used: If a second controller is available, you can simply extend the volume with drives on the second controller without disruptive reallocations.

Another interesting feature that comes in handy when a drive fails is the ability to share a spare across multiple LUNs (logical unit numbers). However, my favorite among the BC4000's full list of features is hiding the mirror copy of a volume from the OS, which facilitates quick recovery from a variety of crisis situations, including a virus infection and a misbehaving OS or application update. 

It's also worth remembering that in the SATA RAID space, Broadcom faces strong and well-established competitors including Adaptec, AMCC, LSI Logic, and Promise Technology.

Will Broadcom win the bet to carve out its own SATA RAID space in the SMB segment? With its numerous features, support for major OSes, and competitive price, the BC4000 is a promising debutante that we should follow with interest.