Sierra Logic Takes Enterprising Approach to SATA


Sierra Logic has developed a chip that the company says makes serial ATA drives as reliable as Fibre Channel ones.

Sierra Logic bills its Silicon Storage Router (SR-1216) as the "first-ever integrated silicon Fibre Channel to Serial ATA solution." The SR-1216 chip and firmware lets OEMs offer enterprise-class availability "at a fraction of the cost of traditional Fibre Channel or SCSI subsystems," the company says.

The SR-1216 is shipping in volume to Dot Hill Systems, which uses them to make Sun's StorEdge 3511, and Xyratex, and Sierra Logic says more OEM announcements are coming.

Bryan Cowger, Sierra Logic's vice president of marketing, says the trick was to add a second path to single-ported SATA drives to emulate Fibre Channel drives' high availability. The company accomplished this with a controller card, he says, calling it the first integrated chip to do so.

"It's a very complete one-chip solution," Cowger told Enterprise Storage Forum. "The integration levels are far ahead of anyone else at this point."

Regarding SATA's higher failure rates, Cowger points out that "any drive can fail. That's why you have RAID."

Sierra Logic CEO Bob Whitson says SATA is making inroads into enterprise storage. "We're seeing SATA starting to penetrate the low end of primary storage," Whitson says. "That's faster than expected.

"We don't see SATA replacing Fibre Channel or SCSI drives for the highest-end, OLTP applications, but we do believe that there are a large number of business-critical applications in the data center that can safely reside on these lower-cost, higher-capacity platforms," Whitson adds.

"SATA hard disk drives are one of the most important technologies in the storage industry," says Tony Asaro, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group. "We tend to focus on the impact of software innovations on the market, but SATA is significantly driving down the total cost of ownership of network storage. One of the drawbacks of SATA is reliability compared to Fibre Channel drives. Sierra Logic enables enterprise-class reliability for SATA so that in addition to near-line and secondary storage, it can also be used for primary storage as well. ... Using it for primary storage will enable customers to meet the demands of doing more with less. That is what Sierra Logic brings to the table."

Sierra Logic says the SR-1216 technology has been architected to ensure that there is no single point of failure within the subsystem, a requirement for enterprise data centers. Other enterprise-class features include integrated switching capability to maximize performance, system diagnostics and advanced data protection. The chips include dual 2Gb/s Fibre Channel ports, 16 full-featured SATA ports, and multiple RAID-side topologies, including highly-available topologies yielding up-time performance similar to all-Fibre Channel solutions (five 9s).

Whitson says Sierra Logic expects to take in $7 million in revenue this year and to turn profitable next year. A number of the company's founders, including Whitson and Cowger, came from Agilent's Tachyon Fibre Channel chip team.

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