PLX Technology, a leading global supplier of high-speed connectivity solutions, plans to demonstrate its ExpressFabric technology at the SC12 supercomputing conference this week. ExpressFabric is a PLX-initiated approach to extending the PCI Express standard from its current dominant presence inside servers, switches and storage appliances, to a central position as a fabric, uniting all hardware within the racks of data centers.
“Small to medium sized clusters – for example, those with 20 to 1000 CPU nodes, on one to eight racks – are best suited for ExpressFabric technology. For applications that use clusters of that size, or are capable of using disaggregated clusters, ExpressFabric technology allows for complete elimination of bridges and other protocol fabrics to create the mini-clusters. The PCIe convergence model and ongoing software development that is being implemented is designed to be compatible and will co-exist with Ethernet, InfiniBand and other fabrics in the data center,” said Vijay Meduri, PLX vice president of engineering.
A PCIe-based ExpressFabric offers the ability to combine different data types in a single converged pathway. ExpressFabric enables efficient convergence in several ways: All devices and subsystems offer native PCIe, thus allowing immediate use of an existing infrastructure, whereas any other approach adds bridging devices that inherently increase latency, cost and power. In addition, the data – compute, communication or storage – is created and consumed as PCIe on each of the slots in the rack, so it is efficient from both an architectural and software point of view to send it across the fabric in this form.
In order to enable development of platforms based on the ExpressFabric solution, PLX is creating a development tool ecosystem, including its ExpressNIC (a PCIe-based plug-in card), a 1U switch box built with the company’s high-speed Gen3 devices, and a software package that emulates the key fabric features necessary to do early engineering. These hardware and software development kits are intended to seed market adoption, and enable the rapid growth expected in the coming years.
PCIe, with its third-generation products in full production and Gen4 designs already in development, offers a compelling resource for designers to take advantage of the widely implemented and rigorously proven PCIe standard. PCIe has been deployed throughout nearly every industry market segment since it was first introduced in 2003. The specification has progressed from a per-lane data transfer rate of 2Gb/s to the current Gen3 per-lane transfer rate of 8Gb/s, and can be aggregated to allow a bidirectional data transfer rate as high as 256Gb/s.