New Chips Make Way For Faster Storage

Looking to expand its chipmaking empire, Intel Monday
debuted a batch of optical transceivers it says will double the speed of
Fibre Channel storage systems without costing much more than what is already
out in the market.

The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip making giant said its new Intel
TXN31015 and TXN31115 transceivers are designed to handle video and
graphics applications, as well as new requirements for increased
document retention and security, both of which are driving the need for
faster storage networks.

The two new 4-Gbps optical transceivers are aimed at host bus adaptors
(HBA), switches and redundant-array-of-independent-disks (RAID) storage.


Intel said
both products conform to multi-source agreements (MSA) — standards that
define electrical, physical and other characteristics and are compatible
with existing 2- and 1-Gbps systems.

The TXN31015 is based on the compact Small Form Factor (SFF) MSA, and is
targeted at HBAs and RAID applications in storage area networks. (SANs) The
TXN31115 is based on the Small Form Factor Pluggable (SFP) MSA and is
designed for 4-Gbps Fibre Channel switches. Both transceivers are designed
to operate on the 850nm multimode optical fiber found in 90 percent of
enterprise networks.

Sampling today with partners, the two transceivers should be
shipping to the public in the second half of 2004, Intel said.. Both units are priced
at $47 in sample quantities of 1,000, and should eventually cost about as
much as current hardware running anywhere between 1- and 2-Gbps when bought
in bulk.

Currently, Intel has a product line of networking chips running at 10
Gbps, as well as a selection of optical transceivers. The new units support
the 4-Gbps Fibre Channel specification, which is quickly becoming a favorite
of storage vendors looking to avoid bottlenecks in storage area networks
systems running at least 2-Gbps but not as much as 10-Gbps.

“The new transceivers complement our broad line of 10-Gbps transceivers,
offering storage system vendors a range of optical options for all levels of
storage systems,” Bob Zona, marketing director of Intel’s Optical Products
Division said in a statement.

In related news, Intel added two new transceivers to its optical
transceiver family for entry-level 2- and 1-Gbps Fibre Channel and Ethernet
storage systems. The new 2/1-Gbps Intel TXN31011 SFF and TXN31111 SFP
transceivers operate at 2- and 1-Gbps Fibre Channel and at 1-Gbps Ethernet
rates. They are designed for Fibre Channel HBAs and switches, and Ethernet
network interface cards. Both are available now and priced at $35 in
quantities of 1,000.

Along with the rest of the computer hardware and telecommunication
industries, Intel is confronting bandwidth limitations at two levels.
Telecommunication firms have had success tackling the problem of creating
fiber-optic “pipes” through which to send data long distances.

But the field of microphotonics has met with less success. The problem:
after digitized light signals are sent across fiber networks, they must
communicate with individual silicon chips within computers. That requires
“switching” between photonic and electronic signals — a time-consuming
process that chipmakers like Intel would like to hasten.

Intel has been working on turning some of its processors into tunable lasers to adjust the frequency without performing a hard swap.


Meanwhile,
the company has augmented some of its technology courtesy of its acquisition of West Bay Semiconductor, based in Vancouver, Canada.

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