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PLX Technology

... PLX logo - click for more info
PLX Technology, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., is the leading
supplier of semiconductors for PCIe interface chip applications
(extenders, routers, switches) which are used by systems designers
in the enterprise server and SSD markets.

The company develops innovative software-enriched silicon that enables
product differentiation, reliable interoperability and high performance.
.......
PCIe chips from PLX - click for more info
switches for leading PCIe SSD designs
ExpressLane™ from PLX Technology
PLX - addresses and links

PLX Technology, Inc. - Corporate HQ
870 W. Maude Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94085
USA
tel:- +1 (408) 774-9060
url:- http://www.plxtech.com

worldwide office locations

See also:-PLX - editor mentions on StorageSearch.com and PLX's PCIe technology page

Editor's comments:- September 17, 2013 - PLX is the secret sauce behind many of the advances we're seeing in high availability PCIe SSD designs today.


Who's who in SSD? - by Zsolt Kerekes, editor - February 9, 2012

PLX is 1 of many companies listed in our storage interface and glue chips directory.

And especially in this context - PLX is the leading supplier of PCIe interface chips (extenders, routers, switches).

what's that got to with SSDs?

These chips enable SSD designers to create simple and complex fabrics right on the SSD card.

Just as in earlier years - the SSD market learned to appreciate the importance of the SSD controller and its architecture in predefining the performance, reliability, cost, strengths, weaknesses, capabilities, and limitations of SSDs - so too - it's important to realize that some chipmakers make it easier to support specific subsets and supersets of all the possible PCIe topologies than others.

Among the many oem customers who PLX's PCIe switch technologies inside their PCIe SSDs are industry leaders you already know for example - Fusion-io and OCZ.

Due to the emerging size of the PCIe SSD market - I expect that many more SSD companies will be evaluating what's involved in PCIe for the first time - and trying to get a sense of the direction this technology is going.

inside PCIe - educational resources

PLX has created a big bunch of white papers and videos which may be helpful for product marketers (to get a feel for the performance numbers) and designers (to get a feel for what glue technology is available to get them started quickly).

Even if you're not in an SSD company - but just a user or analyst - these educational materials will help you understand what are the possibilities in the PCIe SSD market today - and what new types of SSD will these chip technologies support in the future?

rocking the PCIe SSD cruise boat

The PCIe material from PLX which most impacted my thinking was not their stuff about PCIe in enterprise SSD designs (video). That's just a prettification of what we've already been seeing in the market - interesting if you want to see a coherent narrative - and well presented - but nothing to rock the architecture boat.

But when I saw this video - PCIe as a fabric for data center clustering (video) - my center of gravity moved.

At an overview level it shows how PLX's PCIe extenders and switch chips support lossless, software light, high performance CPU to CPU memory transfers - and shared I/O - for upto about 200 nodes - as a mini-cluster. At the next level of scalability you can interconnect these clusters

why's that so important?

If you take a classical storage architecture view - it suggests that network physical interfaces are things like Ethernet and Fibre-channel - whereas PATA, SATA, SAS and PCIe SSDs are usually viewed as DAS (direct attached storage).

Right from the start of the PCIe SSD market some pioneers challenged that view and pushed the boundaries of what you might expect - with both marketing rhetoric and actual products.

In 2007 - Fusion-io referred to their original ioDrive as a "SAN" capable SSD. It wasn't true for the original model - although as we now know it is true for the architecture - but 5 years ago it was a way of positioning PCIe SSDs as "enterprise storage".

In 2009 - Dolphin launched SSD racks which were stuffed with their own design of PCIe SSDs - and could be located 1,000 feet away from the host server using a fiber extended PCIe interface. - Now you might think that's not a great distance - but I'd like to remind you that Ethernet started as a departmental / campus standard too.

what is a storage network?

To my way of thinking - if you can access hundreds of servers and thousands of PCIe SSDs in fault tolerant modes over the distance of a few cabinets using copper cable - and around your datacenter using fiber - that starts to look distinctly like a network typology to me. And if the physical layer is low latency / high bandwidth PCIe - then that could start resetting some long held assumptions about how things get done - at the core of big enterprise.

The PLX video I mentioned above - suggests that systems designers could easily have Ethernet protocols as the management and software layers above the raw chips.

and that brings us to software for PCIe SSDs

Now it's easy to see how some PCIe SSD oems - can leverage the extended topology features enabled by the new generation of PCIe chips to provide fault tolerant arrays and much higher capacity and performance then you see in current products in the market today.

But how will these new "PCIe as a SAN" topologies interact with 3rd party software from SSD ISVs?

Earlier this week I contacted Serge Shats - who's CTO at FlashSoft - and I asked
  • How much visibility do you as an SSD software ISV have of the PCIe switch identity?
  • How important is it for you to know about the brand of PCIe chip? – and do you support vendor specific features?
  • Or do you leave this to the SSD oem?
Serge gave me this very useful answer - "FlashSoft cluster SW (for persistent, distributed read-write cache) replicates data between pairs of cluster nodes. We call them "replication pairs". Any fast interconnect between nodes is useful for our solution. Replication pairs design is the basis for our N-node cluster implementation.

"In order to use that PCI switches our SW must fully control initiator and target. It means that PCI switches should have an open API for kernel modules. Number of nodes in the cluster based on the switch is limited. That's why replication pairs design is useful here.

"The PCIe chip is invisible for us now but we can use it in the future for implementation of low latency flash access model. However, the API to PCIe chip should be commoditized. BTW, Intel proposed NVMe to provide low latency, page-based access to the flash."

back to PLX and what I call - the PCIe FT SAN

So now you know
  • the interface chipmakers can do it,
  • the PCIe SSD designers are already using these chip families, and
  • the ISVs have various ways handling new PCIe SAN and FT (fault tolerant) functionality - when they have access to the APIs.
That means the PCIe SSD revolution which you've already seen flashing the enterprise core in the past 5 years is far from over. It's only just begun.

Or - as the Borg might say - to HDD array makers - "Resistance is futile. You will be assimilated."

For more info about PLX take a look at the links above and PLX - editor mentions on StorageSearch.com.

I currently talk to more than 300 makers of SSDs and another 100 or so companies which are closely enmeshed around the SSD ecosphere - which are all profiled here on the mouse site.

I learn about new SSD companies every day, including many in stealth mode. If you're interested in the growing big picture of the SSD market canvass - StorageSearch will help you along the way. Many SSD company CEOs read our site too - and say they value our thought leading SSD content - even when we say something that's not always comfortable to hear. I hope you'll find it it useful too.
PLX - mentions in storage history and SSD history

In December 2008 - PLX Technology announced a definitive agreement to acquire all of the outstanding shares of capital stock of Oxford Semiconductor. That gave PLX a range of SoCs for NAS and DAS (USB, FireWire and SATA) bridges, interfaces and RAID controller products.

Iin March 2011 - PLX Technology announced it's working with system partners worldwide to accelerate adoption of PCIe SSDs. PLX is a founding member of the (Intel led) enhanced Non-Volatile Memory Host Controller Interface (NVMHCI) Work Group whose goal is to enable the broad adoption of SSDs using PCIe.

In October 2011 OCZ agreed to acquire the UK Design Team (approximately 40 engineers located in Abingdon) and certain assets from plx which will enable OCZ to accelerate the development of its next generation of fast SSDs - while also reducing development costs. I learned later that this core technology group was based on PLX's acquisition of Oxford Semiconductor in 2008.

In July 2013 - "Strong (design) activity around PCIe SSD platforms" was mentioned by David Raun, President and CEO - PLX - as a growth opportunity in the company's FY2013 Q2 financial press release (pdf).
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PLX is ready with 1st Gen3 compliant PCIe switches
Editor:- February 4, 2014 - PLX Technology today announced it is the 1st PCIe switch vendor to have achieved Gen3 compliance having passed the compliance testing procedures of PCI-SIG.

Editor's comments:- the new standard doubles the maximum data bandwidth of PCIe SSDs to 1GB/s per lane in each direction - which enable 32GB/s total throughput for a x16 link.

See also:- storage ORGs, PCIe SSDs, SSD interface chips, Gen3 faqs, PCI Express 3.0 Integrators List
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Overview of PCIe topologies for enterprise SSDs
Editor:- July 17, 2013 - Taking PCIe Out of the Box - is just one of the many different topologies discussed in a new white paper about PCIe and enterprise storage from PLX Technology called - Enterprise Storage and PCI Express
image from PLX article about PCIe SSD topologies
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PCIe everywhere?
Editor:- February 1, 2013 - Is PCIe the Natural Next-Generation Data Center Fabric?

That's what Larry Chisvin, VP of strategic initiatives PLX Technology believes and he'll try to convert you to his way of thinking next week at the Linley Tech Data Center Conference in Santa Clara. PLX is the worldwide market leader in PCIe switch products.

See also:- enterprise SSD silos, PCIe SSDs, SSD glue chips.
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SSD ad - click for more info
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so you want to learn more about PCIe inside SSDs?
Editor:- PLX has created a bunch of white papers and videos which may be helpful for product marketers (to get a feel for the performance numbers) and designers (to get a feel for what glue technology is available to get them started quickly).

Even if you're not in an SSD company - but just a user or analyst - these educational materials will help you understand what are the possibilities in the PCIe SSD market today - and what new types of SSD will these chip technologies support in the future? Here's a selection.
  • PCIe in enterprise SSD designs (video) - This includes an introductory tutorial into PCIe and its performance and architectural capabilities for SSDs including automatic failover and multi-host capabilities. PLX's switch chips also supports failover if the fault occurs in the PCIe switch fabric chips themselves.
  • PCIe as a fabric for data center clustering (video) - PLX's PCIe extenders and switch chips support lossless, software light, high performance CPU to CPU memory transfers - and shared I/O - for upto about 200 nodes - as a mini-cluster. At the next level of scalability you can interconnect these clusters.
  • Optimizing PCIe SSD performance is the title of an article (co-written by Larry Chisvin, VP strategic initiatives, PLX, and Shawn Kung, director of product marketing at Marvell - which was published in EETimes August 2012) - but it goes much further than that title suggests. The article goes on to discuss scalability and configuration options which enable PCIe based storage to provide benefits far beyond simply speeding up legacy storage interfaces.
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SSD sudden power loss management
Why should you care what happens in an SSD when the power goes down?

This important design feature - which barely rates a mention in most SSD datasheets and press releases - has a strong impact on SSD data integrity and operational reliability.

This article will help you understand why some SSDs which (work perfectly well in one type of application) might fail in others... even when the changes in the operational environment appear to be negligible.
image shows Megabyte's hot air balloon - click to read the article SSD power down architectures and acharacteristics If you thought endurance was the end of the SSD reliability story - think again. ...read the article
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don't all PCIe SSDs look pretty much the same?
When you look at the photos and headline specs for high speed PCIe SSDs - it's easy to come away with the impression that they all look the same and have about the same performance.

After all - how different can they be?

But don't let the experience of the 2.5" SSD market - in which clusters of consumer SSD vendors use the same or similar controllers and hover close together inpopular (consumer) performance rankings - give you the wrong idea about PCIe SSDs.

In this market the performance limits and capabilities of the SSD aren't set by an old hard disk interface and package limitations.

In the PCIe market the products you get are limited only by the imagination of the designers - tempered by the guesses of marketers who are trying to predict the optimum (most salable) features for an ideal SSD.
click to read the article And because server apps vary - so too do those idealized designs too. ...read the article
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How big was the thinking in this SSD's design?
Does size really does matter in SSD design?

By that I mean how big was the mental map? - not how many inches wide is the SSD.

The novel and the short story both have their place in literature and the pages look exactly the same. But you know from experience which works best in different situations and why.

When it comes to SSDs - Big versus Small SSD architecture - is something which was in the designer's mind. Even if they didn't think about it that way at the time.
click to read the article - Big versus Small SSD  architectures For designers, integrators, end users and investors alike - understanding what follows from these simple choices predicts a lot of important consequences. ...read the article
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