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New USB 3.1 specification will offer up to 1.2 GB per second

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September 23, 2013

At CES 2013 last January, Jeff Ravencraft, CEO of the USB Implementers Forum said that the Super Speed USB 3.0 specification would double its throughput from 5Gb per second to 10Gb per second in its 3.1 upgrade.

Well last Friday, we conducted some tests using a Fresco Logic–developed, FPGA-based, USB 3.1 prototype controller board connected to DDR memory. Why not an SSD? "Because there are no solid-state drives that are at that level yet," Ravencraft explained.

With that setup running the ATTO Disk Benchmark, USB 3.1 transmitted large packets at up to 900 MB per second and this using a specification that was just released less than nine weeks ago.

"With USB 3.0 at 5 Gigs per sec," Ravencraft said, "you'd typically see, at the high end, around 450 megabytes. So here we are, eight weeks out, and we're already showing double that, so that's pretty good."

According to Ravencraft, USB 3.1 will easily deliver up to 1.2 GB per second when it's fully implemented, a speed that will be capable of delivering uncompressed 4K video.

"We think we'll see real products that you can buy in a retail store probably in the market for the holiday season next year," he told us.

Speaking of real products, Ravencraft proudly pointed to the fact that there are now over 1,000 certified USB 3.0 products in the marketplace, and said that various analyst firms now estimate that about 700 million individual Super Speed USB–enabled devices will be shipped this year, and that shipments will grow to around 2.2 billion by 2016.

That's grim news for Intel's Thunderbolt solution. "Thunderbolt suffers extensively from a pricing issue. The cost to add Thunderbolt to a notebook computer remains exorbitantly high when compared to the costs for adding USB 3.0 to the same notebook," he added.

And the reason is fairly simple. Intel's Thunderbolt controller chips currently cost around $10 apiece, and USB 3.0 has been integrated into all of Intel's consumer chipsets since last year.

Another important factor to consider is that Thunderbolt cables, while having declined in price since the launch, still retail for about $30 each. Essentially all of this means that when a consumer is faced with a choice between buying an external hard-drive with Thunderbolt or USB 3.0, the USB 3.0 device should have a significant price advantage.

In addition to the USB 3.1 testing we did Friday, Ravencraft also discussed the USB-IF's new Media Agnostic (MA) USB effort, which will allow wireless devices and docking stations to communicate using the the USB 2.0, 3.0, and 3.1 protocols without a physical connection.

MA-enabled devices could communicate over 60 GHz WiGig, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz Wi-Fi, and WiMedia ultra-wide band radios operating between 3.1 GHz and 10.6 GHz.

As a matter of fact, being media agnostic, it could operate on essentially any other applicable existing or future type of media, even on Ethernet cable, should that usage model make any sense for your application.

In other IT news

Tape library vendor Spectra Logic has added a new product to its data archiving offerings-- the nTier Verde disk array.

Tape-based data protection vendors like Overland Storage and Quantum have gone into the disk array business to offset declining tape revenues.

And for the most part, overall results have varied greatly-- financial impact has been dismal at best and near company-killing at worst. Some some IT industry analysts are now questioning Spectra's timing to move forward in that direction.

One reason is that Spectra makes money from its tape libraries and revenues have in fact been growing steadily for many quarters, enabling the company to invest growing amounts each year. For the past six months, about ten to twelve percent of its revenues have been invested into R&D.

Spectra has developed its own disk array specifically for archiving data, not for storage. Neither is it for data backups, having no virtual tape library (VTL) functionality or any support for specific backup data transport protocols or deduplication.

And object storage isn't its purpose either, since the interfaces are just NFS and CIFS, meaning only files are transferred to and from the server chassis. It is simply an archive filer.

The bulk capacity of the disk array comes in 4U rackmount enclosures. The disks are enterprise class 3.5-in hard drives with a SAS interface, not consumer grade ones, and support an enterprise archive duty cycle. There are hot spares and what Spectra calls an intelligent rebuild process if a disk fails.

There are so-called cold pair and warm pair units for higher availability. Servers access the array nodes using 4 x 1 GigE and 2 x 10 gigE links.

There is a 2U or 4U master node to which 4U expansion nodes are connected. Maximum capacity is 1.7 PB currently. Assuming 6 TB drives arrive in 2014, maximum storage capacity will rise to 2.6 PB, and go on to 3.4 PB in 2015 with 8 TB drives.

Additionally, new disks can be added to expand capacity in place. A full rack contains 431 drives, the 1.7 PB in nine expansion nodes, holding 44 drives, with a single master node, which holds from 4 to 35 4 TB drives in a 4U form factor and up to 11 in a 2U form factor.

The system features data compression, thin provisioning, snapshots and support for future higher capacity drives. The array software carries out data integrity checks, using proprietary checksums, in the background, analogous to tape library data integrity checks.

Strata View is a new software interface enabling users to choose protection against one, two or three drive failures. In effect you can choose between protection and performance.

Spectra says an nTier Verde array can be in production use in 30 minutes or so after unpacking starts. Firstly, it has not been publicly announced. Information is available on Spectra's website but there has been no press release and the marketing has been deliberately low-key.

Secondly, it's called the nTier Verde, as in "Verde", meaning green. But it isn't green: it's a disk drive array like other disk drive arrays, and keeps its disks spinning and cooled.

Source: The USB Implementers Forum.

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