Sun's Fibre Channel line comes of age with A5000

Software RAID array promises 184-MB/sec throughput

By Robert McMillan

November  1997
[Next story]
[Table of Contents]
Sun's Site

Mail this
article to
a friend
San Francisco (November 1, 1997) -- If the network is the computer, then storage should be part of the network, or so goes the reasoning at Sun Microsystems. This month Sun Microsystems Computer Company (SMCC) will take a step toward its vision of networked storage as it begins volume shipments of its new and much-anticipated Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop (FCAL) storage array, the Sun Enterprise Network Array A5000.

Sun calls the arrays its next-generation Fibre Channel product, citing the SPARCstorage arrays as first-generation technology. But the A5000 is Sun's first product to have Fibre all the way to the hard disk (SPARCstorage arrays are SCSI [Small Computer System Interface] from the controller to the disk). Consequently, the A5000 has about four times the I/O of its 3.5-year-old predecessors. Sun claims to have obtained 184-MB (megabytes)-per-second sustained throughput on the array's dual 100-MB/sec loops.

SMCC Senior Product Manager Robin Harris says, "Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop really represents a fundamentally different way of building storage. FCAL incorporates a network-style technology so that these arrays can be much more flexible, much more scalable, and much more available than current SCSI technology."

Hoping to convince users that the A5000 is really road tested, Harris says that about 80 percent of the SPARCstorage software code was reused in the new product and, he adds, Sun has already shipped about 40 terabytes of the product. But Sun isn't yet saying who's using the product.


Software RAID not for everyone
Industry analysts seem a little cooler on the A5000. Mike Casey, a research director with Gartner Group, maintains that because the A5000 uses software-based RAID (Random Array of Inexpensive Disks), unlike Sun's RSM 2000 line of arrays, it will not appeal to everyone. Referring to the product, he says, "It's a good thing in that it gives you longer distances and higher data rates and, probably, a more reliable and robust packaging design." But he cautions, "my only hesitation is that it really puts us back in the world of doing mirroring from software."

The improved packaging Casey refers to is hot-plug drive support. The way the SPARCstorage 100 was packaged, he says, users would have to take out 10 drives at a time. Apparently this is no longer the case with the A5000.

Dataquest's Tom LaHive says that customers who want different levels of availability and heterogeneous support may want to think twice before investing in the A5000. "I think it's a building block and only a building block," he says. According to LaHive, Sun needs to ship a hardware-based Fibre Channel RAID, support a switch, and also provide support for platforms other than Solaris.

Sun Enterprise Network Array A5000

Sun's Harris says that the switch will come out sometime in 1998. Fibre Channel tape libraries are also expected at that time, and Sun has been hinting for some time now that it intends to use its SPARC processor technology at the controller level, allowing the array, or switched hub of arrays, to become an independent network device that could, in theory, be off-loaded applications from the server.

Included in the A5000 is the Veritas Volume Manager 2.5.1 software with its dynamic multipathing algorithms that allow users to balance I/O across both disk paths.

The A5000 is priced comparably to the RSM 2000, at about 50 cents per megabyte. Entry level configurations of 45 GB (gigabytes) start at $35,000. A full 509-GB configuration costs $273,000. Sun is also selling a Vixel Corporation hub with the array for between $4,000 and $6,500. The host adaptor lists for $2,700.


What did you think of this article?
-Very worth reading
-Worth reading
-Not worth reading
-Too long
-Just right
-Too short
-Too technical
-Just right
-Not technical enough

[Table of Contents]
Sun's Site
[Next story]
Sun's Site

[(c) Copyright  Web Publishing Inc., and IDG Communication company]

If you have technical problems with this magazine, contact

Last modified: