QLogic's Mt. Rainier PCIe Flash Tech Launches as FabricCache

By Pedro Hernandez

Most PCIe server-side caching cards, according to QLogic's VP of marketing Chris Humphrey, are essentially fast, flash-based direct-attached storage with software that gives applications a speed boost. The problem is that big, business critical applications are rarely tethered to just one server in today's data centers.

So QLogic set out to do for flash-enhanced application servers what storage area networks (SAN) have done for today's data center IT infrastructures. "Shared SAN storage had enabled things like clustered applications and virtualization to blossom," said Humphrey.

QLogic first offered a glimpse of its answer, called Mt. Rainier, in September. Today, the company made it official by launching FabricCache QLE10000 adapter, a product that the company hails as the "industry's first caching SAN adapter.

The dual-card, interconnected solution is a combination of the company's 8Gb, dual-port Fibre Channel (FC) adapter, PCIe-based SLC flash (for power only) and caching and I/O management that runs on an onboard processor and memory. FabricCache appears to a server as a single standard adapter.

It also enables the pooling of server-side flash storage cache. "That combined cache pool is shared among the servers," said Humphrey. "Clustered applications can be accelerated," he offered, adding that with just "one hop across the SAN," data intensive application and virtual workloads are never at a loss for speed, data or flash capacity.

In tests performed on an Oracle RAC cluster, the company observed 82 percent faster response times and an 87 percent reduction in demand of the storage array in terms of disk IOPs. The company also reported a 57 percent reduction in average transaction response and peak transaction response slashed by 82 percent.

IT managers and storage administrators will find a lot to like about QLogic's Mt. Rainier technology, according to Storage Strategies NOW senior analyst James E. Bagley.

QLogic's approach to flash-based acceleration addresses some of the most glaring shortcomings of PCIe caching solutions. First, as is typical with most add-ons, accommodating server-side caching requires much more than simply plugging in new hardware.

"Most organizations using storage area networks have developed a number of scripted procedures for provisioning that storage across a number of applications. These will usually need to be modified when server-side caching is implemented," informed Bagley. QLogic's unified driver strategy, which enjoys overwhelming industry support, eliminates that barrier.

It's as close to plug-and-play as it gets in both enterprise flash and the networked storage arena. "By implementing within the Fibre Channel fabric, no changes need to be made to any existing shared storage or processes, it just runs faster by keeping the hot data available within the server, " explained Bagely.

Virtualizatized environments, in particular, should expect a noticeable boost in performance.

"Motion of virtual workloads for load balancing is greatly enhanced because the workload still has access to its cache on the prior physical machine through the fabric. This avoids the annoying behavior of the moved workload, which will be relatively slow while the new cache is 'warmed'," stated Bagely.

All told, QLogic's claims of having achieved an industry first have merit, indicates Bagely. "We have long felt that a fabric-connected implementation is the best solution for server-side cache and QLogic has clearly beaten everyone to the punch with this one," he said.

FabricCache 10000, available in 200GB and 400GB capacities, starts shipping by the end of March via the company's channel partners.

Pedro Hernandez is a contributing editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of the IT Business Edge Network, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @ecoINSITE.

This article was originally published on March 21, 2013