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Avago PEX9700 PCI Express switch adds HA

Hyperscale systems and high-performance computing environments can gain performance boosts from Avago's PEX9700 PCI Express switch chips.

Avago Technologies sees its recently released PEX9700 Express Fabric series of switch chips as a way to lower latency...

while adding high availability when converging storage, servers and networking through the PCI Express bus.

The PEX9700 is aimed at hyperscale data centers and high performance computing, and makes Avago the rare storage vendor these days talking about innovating through hardware rather than software.

The chips' key features include tunneled windows connections to connect up to 24 nodes on a single chip or cascade multiple chips to connect up to 72 nodes with no impact on performance. The chips embed direct memory access (DMA) engines for large, efficient data transfers between hosts and a new shared I/O capability that allows for endpoint sharing among multiple hosts connected to a switch.

The embedded DMA engine on each port allows the PEX9700 to communicate with multiple hosts (up to 24) simultaneously for direct PCI Express (PCIe) to PCIe communication.

The Avago PEX9700 series isolates downstream ports, so the switch can disable a data pathway until a failed device is replaced. This high availability feature can also be handled manually through the management port.

"We have introduced a real disruptive technology," said senior product line manager Akber Kazmi.

The PEX9700 chips are based on technology from Avago's 2014 acquisition of PLX Technology, and can be used on motherboards, controllers, disk drive arrays or routers.

The PEX9700 includes seven models ranging from the 9712 with 12 lanes and five ports to the 9797 with 97 lanes and 25 ports. One port on each switch is used for management.

"You can combine 16 lanes and get 128 gigabytes capacity in a pipe so you have a fat pipe in a single chip," Kazmi said. "That's raw bandwidth. You also can take four lanes in a single port or pipe for a 32-gigabyte pipe or take eight lanes for a 64-gigabyte pipe."

Scott Sinclair, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, said PEX9700's flexible port configuration seems to have solved one of the problems of the PCIe bus.

"The PCIe bus allows everyone to talk to everyone. It's like a party chat line. It's a faster bus," Sinclair said. "The problem is that one bad behavior can bring down the communication to everything. Isolating the endpoints [as the PEX9700 does] means a failure is isolated and does not impact everything else."

Sinclair said Avago's new chips come as the industry is focused on software-defined storage rather than hardware.

"I think this is a key thing to call out. There is so much focus on software or storage software," he said. "The idea that all hardware is created equal isn't always the case. Hardware vendors are making innovations and Avago's PCIe switch is an example of that."

PLX was among three Avago acquisitions over the past year to strengthen its storage and networking hardware product lines. Avago closed a $6.6 billion acquisition of storage components provider LSI in May, 2014, and completed a $606 million deal for HBA and converged adapter vendor Emulex last February. Avago paid $309 million for PLX.

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Would you replace a Fibre Channel adapter with a smart PCIe switch like the Avago PEX9700?
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It is well past time to get to sharable PCIe switching. It should be an element in all new designs from hyperconverged to hyperscale.
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