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Microsemi Extends PCIe Into Fabrics

September 5, 2017

Author: Loring Wirbel

Microsemi has introduced PAX, the third switch-chip family in its Switchtec PCI Express line, offering fabric extensions for memory, storage, and network virtualization. Its previous switch chips are optimized for fanout and storage. Because these new multiport products appear to the host as standard PCIe switches, they’re conceptually similar to the ExpressFabric line that PLX launched in 2014. PAX provides up to 96 lanes, 48 ports, and 24 virtual-switch partitions, and it can employ Single Root IOV (SR-IOV) as well as other virtualization standards.

After Avago purchased PLX in 2015, ExpressFabric became Broadcom’s PEX family. Broadcom has since added no new switches to that family, but it says design teams continue to work on extensions to the architecture. It claims a 90% cloud-data-center market share, including OEMs and cloud managers. Among the latter customers are Facebook with its Big Sur and Big Basin platforms as well as Microsoft with its Olympus, part of the Open Compute Project. Other than Broadcom and Microsemi, no PCIe switch vendors are developing new standard products.

Although multihost shared I/O and multifunction end points are important features, Microsemi sees growing interest in using NVMe Over Fabrics (NVMe-oF) to implement “fabric-attached bunch of flash” (FBOF) systems. These systems include an RDMA NIC and NVMe SSDs, connected through a PCIe switch. We see Microsemi’s debut of Switchtec and Flashtec products as a well-considered effort to take advantage of new SR-IOV and NVMe-oF peer-to-peer features. Doing so should expand Switchtec’s presence in hyperconverged fabrics. Challenging Broadcom in the data center is never easy, but Microsemi has the only alternative products for future PCIe storage fabrics.

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