PCI Express Looks to Expand Even Further




Enterprise storage, mobile, power savings…just some of what explains how PCI Express, a technology that’s been around for a while, is also just getting started. It’s also why Avago has paired PLX with LSI Logic in storage applications.

Editor’s note: PLX Technology participates in the round table discussion on PCI Express in this issue. I also had a few more questions for PLX, which Akber Kazmi, the company’s senior director of marketing, answered for me.


EECatalog: Tell us something about PCIe technology, from a PLX perspective, that our readers probably don’t know.

Akber_Kazmi

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Figure 1. One approach to PCI Express deployment in the data center is to use PCIe-based fabrics within racks of data centers while maintaining native PCIe communication at the host and end-points.

Kazmi: PCIe started out as a replacement of the PCI bus and most people know it as a high-speed serial bus. However, PCIe has progressed significantly since its introduction—to the point that it offers a range of new features while maintaining the same single-host software model as the PCI bus. PCIe switches are now available that offer dual or multi-host capabilities along with failover function. Newer PCIe switches enable a PCIe fabric-type function and I/O-sharing that is instrumental in the devices’ deployment in the data center and cloud topologies. One example of this is PLX’s ExpressFabric architecture (Figure 1), which enables designers to deploy standards-compliant, low-latency, PCIe-based fabrics within racks of data centers while maintaining native PCIe communication at the host and end-point. This results in huge power savings and lower hardware costs due to the removal of unnecessary bridging cards like HBAs.


EECatalog: In what markets/applications is PCIe growing and why?

Kazmi: PCIe is growing in storage faster than other segments as the market’s appetite for capacity and speed of access continues to grow (Figure 2). In enterprise storage, several new standards like SATAe and NVMe have created additional need for PCIe ports. In consumer or prosumer storage, new notebooks and tablets are being shipped with heavy flash content that increases the need for the PCIe ports; standards such as M.2 have been introduced to offer Flash with PCIe. Furthermore, the use of PCIe in other areas like servers and communications in data center topologies continues to grow.

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Figure 2. The storage segment is seeing rapid growth for PCIe.


EECatalog: What does the future hold for PCIe?

Kazmi: PCIe is expected to realize deeper entrenchment in the data center and cloud applications as the need for fast data access continues. It’s something PCIe is ideally suited to support through its lower cost and latency overhead (Figure 3). PCIe functionality and speed continues to improve to address the present requirements and anticipate future needs.

PCIe Gen3 is presently in the maturity stage, while Gen 4, with twice the speed, is being defined. Also, PCIe is expected to make inroads in mobile applications through a new specification, defined by the PCI-SIG, called Mobile PCIe (M-PCIe).

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Figure 3. Lower latency overhead is expected to help PCI Express gain a stronger foothold in the data center.


EECatalog: What are the key technology differentiators that PLX has that your in-process acquisition purchaser (Avago Technologies) wants? What’s so unique about this/these?

Kazmi: Avago recently closed the acquisition of LSI Corporation, a company that offers storage-related technologies for the data center. Avago is a key player in wireless technologies, displays and optics. We have seen many PLX PCIe devices designed into server and storage systems in which our products are sitting next to LSI/Avago devices, offering complementary functionality while connecting a CPU/host to LSI/Avago devices or other I/Os. It was natural for Avago to either build or acquire interconnect technology that connects its products to the host CPU. This allows Avago to not only expand its TAM and footprint in data centers but also makes sure it is able to manage and enhance it to suit its product roadmap.


EECatalog: Any further thoughts or advice to designers?

Kazmi: With the current developments increasing [PCI Express’s] utilization in storage, the traction it has gained as a fabric in top-of-rack switches and its future use in mobile applications, PCIe is becoming a universal technology and increasing its footprint in almost all industry segments. Concurrently, PCIe is surpassing other standards—for example, replacing Ethernet and InfiniBand in some data center applications, getting adopted as the interface for future SATA/SAS interconnects, and moving into mobile applications through M-PCIe and M.2 standards.


ciufo_headshot1Chris A. Ciufo is editor-in-chief for embedded content at Extension Media, which includes the EECatalog print and digital publications and website, Embedded Intel® Solutions, and other related blogs and embedded channels. He has 29 years of embedded technology experience, and has degrees in electrical engineering, and in materials science, emphasizing solid state physics. He can be reached at cciufo@extensionmedia.com.

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