Early Addons Were Key To Intel’s RAID Strategy

raid3Intel Corp. is rolling out hardware and software building blocks designed to make it easier and less expensive for server and workstation makers to add RAID to their systems.

The result, according to officials of the Santa Clara, Calif., company, will be better performance and reliability, particularly for entry- level servers.

“If you have a $1,000 server, it’s hard to justify a $1,000 RAID controller,” said Chris Crotoeau, marketing director for Intel’s I/O products division. “We think that by using a building-block approach, [OEMs] can get [RAID] in for under $300 for single-channel and still benefit end users with reliability and protection.”

RAID technology spreads data over multiple hard disk drives to improve performance and provide some degree of fault tolerance and error checking.

Specifically, Intel announced, at Strategic Research Corp.’s I/O Technologies Forum and Expo here earlier this month, that it was shipping the Integrated RAID Design Kit SMU22R for building two-channel Ultra2 SCSI RAID solutions. The kit, based on Intel’s i960 RM I/O processors, includes schematics and descriptions for hardware manufacturing and the Intel Integrated RAID software stack, complete with drivers, utilities and firmware-all validated with Intel’s latest server processors and chip sets.

Intel will also make available the KMU21, a kit with a single-channel Ultra2 SCSI RAID controller made by LSI Logic Corp.

Intel’s ultimate goal is to get RAID into all servers. API software for the I/O processor in the kits will enable OEMs to develop features that will differentiate their products from one another. For instance, a server maker could tap into the I/O processor to offer an improved hostless backup application, Crotoeau said.

Future Intel offerings will let server makers take more processes off the CPU and run them on the I/O processor, Crotoeau said, thus freeing CPU cycles for important transaction processing.

“We don’t think that’s limited to just RAID and storage,” he said.

Out with the old?

Some in the industry wonder why Intel chose to implement the Ultra2 SCSI standard when a more advanced standard, Ultra 160 SCSI, is already making its way into adapters.

“These controllers are very strong in terms of recoverability when disks in the RAID are failing” said Henry Davis, head engineer at Hard Disk Recovery Services, which specializes in emergency hard drive recovery.

Ultra 160 SCSI, in addition to providing faster throughput than Ultra2 SCSI, has advanced features such as Domain Validation, Schwaderer said.

“You’ve got to have the right building blocks,” he said.

However, LSI’s Harry Mason defended the choice of Ultra2 SCSI, pointing out that it costs less than Ultra 160 SCSI, which was introduced last fall.

“For ISP appliances, bandwidth is not as important as space and price,” said Mason, strategic alliances director for LSI, of Milpitas.

Since many server makers simply won’t jump onto the cutting edge of technology, Mason expects Ultra2 SCSI to have a lot of life left in it.

“We see our SCSI shipments peak about three years after a new product category is introduced,” he said.

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