Data Center Management of Storage Evolves: Coming Intel® processors integrate SAS and next-generation RAID

The ongoing evolution of Xeon and server processing technology continues to create new opportunities in enterprise storage. New multicore server processors are handling more and more of the storage functions that were previously offloaded to specialized cards. And in doing so, they are helping to enhance storage performance, simplify the computer architecture of servers, and reduce costs.

The upcoming release of the “Romley” platform, based on the “Sandy Bridge” microarchitecture, will help facilitate this progression from specialized RAID cards to RAID running on the CPU by integrating support for Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) and next-generation RAID.

Streamlining storage with integrated SAS

With superior performance and better reliability than Serial ATA (SATA), a lower cost than Fibre Channel, and a strong road map for the future, SAS is a robust storage technology that is well suited for mission-critical enterprise applications. To improve SAS performance and streamline integration of the storage subsystem with the server, the Romley platform will incorporate SAS technology directly into the platform controller hub (PCH) chipset—an industry first. Integration will help OEMs and ISVs shrink the server bill of materials, improve motherboard real estate management, free up a PCI Express (PCIe) slot for other use, and reduce the total cost of ownership while eliminating potential bugs and avoiding time-consuming firmware coordination.

Securing data with next-generation RAID

The Romley platform will also help the storage ecosystem take the next steps toward next-generation RAID with integrated support for RAID 0, 1, 10, and 5. In the past, RAID on Chip (ROC) solutions, which offload RAID tasks to a dedicated processor, offered a good means of improving RAID performance while protecting the write-back cache with battery backup. But ROC solutions use a valuable PCI Express (PCIe) slot and are expensive compared with next- generation RAID solutions.

Software-based RAID solutions, which run on the host CPU, are the way of the future. Multicore Intel® Xeon® processors enable software RAID solutions to deliver even better performance than ROC solutions while freeing up a PCIe slot. Next-generation RAID solutions will combine the cost-effective performance of software RAID with the reliability of hardware solutions. Capabilities such as the XOR engine can be integrated into the processor complex. And in the future, an integrated battery backup solution could help protect the RAID cache.

By integrating SAS and RAID acceleration into the CPU, the new Intel® platform represents more than an incremental shift. It is helping to illuminate the path forward, enabling OEMs and ISVs to capitalize on a one-stop, Intel-based solution that boosts storage performance, enhances reliability, and keeps costs under control.