12Gb/s SAS in Full Swing

by Chet Mercado and Rick Kutcipal

For data storage OEMs, system builders and end-users looking to take full advantage of the ultra-high performance that 12Gb/s Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) brings to servers, blades and network storage arrays, 2013 was the year they began to see products rolling out. Prominent vendors introduced a variety of solutions including RAID-on-Chips, I/O controllers, host bus adapters, SAS expanders, storage enclosures and both solid state drives (SSDs) and hard disk drives (HDDs).

In 2014, demand for 12Gb/s SAS products grew as new sources of information such as digital images, sound and video that demand both high-capacity and high-performance disk storage also grew. 12Gb/s SAS high-capacity hard disk drives (HDDs) were introduced to the market and are continuing to ramp.

Market analyst firm IDC expects corporations’ data storage requirements, driven increasingly by these workloads, to double every 18 to 24 months over the next several years, prompting IT managers to look for the most efficient means of storage. The higher available data rate is raising the performance bar for the entire ecosystem and will further challenge those already saturated or considered bottlenecked in current solutions.

The Definition and Value of 12Gb/s SAS

SAS is a scalable serial interconnect used to move data to, from and within storage devices and systems. 12Gb/s SAS is raising storage performance for I/O-intensive applications, virtualized, and big data environments. It provides double the data transfer rate of 6Gb/s SAS solutions and enables the SAS infrastructure to deliver bandwidth that exceeds that of PCI Express® 3.0. Single drive, single port tests have shown sequential read performance topping 150,000 IOPS and 1,000MB/s. These single lane performance levels are very similar to those of the PCI Express-based storage cards emerging today, while x8 12Gb/s SAS host bus adapters (HBAs) based on this technology are achieving in excess of 1M IOPS.

These results are further pushing the limits of extremely scalable platforms and enabling a higher performing class of tiered storage, ranging from mega datacenter scale-out architectures to ultra high-performance solid state solutions. 12Gb/s SAS provides the added performance, scalability, and reliability required for enterprise storage.

A Robust Ecosystem Quickly Developed

The industry performed technology demonstrations well over a year before the SCSI Trade Association (STA) announced in March, 2013 that the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) Technical Committee T10 was finalizing its work on the Serial Attached SCSI 3 (SAS-3) specification, which includes 12Gb/s SAS, and completed letter ballot.

At the August, 2013 Intel Developer’s Forum (IDF) in San Francisco, a major host company announced its 12Gb/s SAS product and a fully enabled storage system was being shown by a leading provider of data storage technology. In the STA booth at IDF, the organization showcased many of the major 12Gb/s SAS ecosystem partners and how their products work with each other. The demonstration included multiple 12Gb/s SAS HBAs, multiple 12Gb/s SAS Expanders, passive and active optical cables and numerous 12Gb/s and 6Gb/s SAS SSDs and HDDs.

As volume deployment of 12Gb/s SAS products continued to ramp, the 16th SAS Plugfest, and fourth focused on 12Gb/s SAS technology, was held September 22-26, 2014 at the University of New Hampshire’s InterOperability Lab. With robust participation from 20 companies, a group of tests that verified the interoperability of systems of multiple SAS end devices connected through multiple SAS expanders was conducted. Extensive compatibility testing of hosts with solid state drives (SSDs) and hard disk drives (HDDs) running at 12Gb/s SAS including several “Large Build” configurations were also completed. All four 12Gb/s SAS Plugfests have consistently provided a verification method to preserve existing storage investments, deliver a favorable end-user experience, demonstrate interoperability and support both forward and backward compatibility.

Commenting on the Plugfest results, Marty Czekalski, former president of the SCSI Trade Association said: “The important advancements of the 12Gb/s SAS data storage standard are further proof points that SAS has a robust roadmap with a history of execution. SAS is both innovative and enterprise hardened and assures investment protection with a guarantee of generational interoperability.”

What Solutions will 12Gb/s SAS Bring?

Now that the 12Gb/s SAS ecosystem has matured and 12Gb/s SAS is in full swing, the industry can look forward to the creative implementations that fully and efficiently take advantage of greater bandwidths while leveraging the proven enterprise reliability of SAS.

Chet Mercado serves on the STA Board of Directors and is Technical Marketing Engineer/Third Party Alliance at HGST, a Western Digital company. Rick Kutcipal is the STA President and External Storage Market Segment Lead at Avago Technologies.

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