NetCell was formed in 1995 as a consultancy and focused on IC development from 1998 onwards. The company’s mission is “to develop host adapter storage acceleration silicon devices for the ATA and SATA host bus adapter, server, PC, workstation and embedded storage markets.” NetCell received seed funding from LSI Logic. In January 2003, NetCell secured Series C funding from August Capital and Redpoint Ventures; however, the round was really a restart. NetCell has secured $13.6M to date and currently has roughly 12 employees.
The average sustained CPU data rate versus that of a hard disk drive (HDD) has grown from roughly 100:1 in 1997 to 300:1 in 2001, and 700:1 in 2003, and will most likely exceed 1000:1 by 2005, based on current projections from major CPU vendors. As mechanical constraints exist for how fast a hard drive can spin and recover data from a rotating platter, it is unlikely that any near term solution will be offered from the drive vendors that can keep up with this increasing gap. This problem is exasperated by the ever-increasing shift from transaction-oriented, small-file enterprise applications to demanding streaming multimedia applications.
To address this problem NetCell has develop SyncRAID technology, a patented method for using parallel disks for accelerating disk I/O performance. NetCell’s SyncRAID single-chip, multi-disk storage acceleration engine will enable PC users to combine several off-the-shelf ATA or serial ATA (SATA) disk drives into a single large, high-speed storage unit. The SyncRAID-based storage unit will be fully compatible with standard ATA/IDE-class drivers in the Windows XP or Windows 2000 environment, and will not load the CPU. Unlike typical RAID5 host bus adapter products, the SyncRAID array is designed to be completely transparent to the host by utilizing existing IDE class drivers, ensuring plug-and-play installation without requiring special drivers, installation disks or other software for standard operation.
SyncRAID technology doubles the performance of traditional enterprise-class RAID systems by eliminating the read-modify-write bottleneck traditionally required in RAID high-reliability mode. Unlike conventional RAID 3 or 5 parallel drive systems based on block data stripes, the NetCell architecture uses a patented synchronous redundant data transfer technique for reading and writing the hard disk drive array at the word level. This approach vastly simplifies the hardware complexity, allowing a single chip implementation of a full high performance RAID system.
Like traditional RAID5 products used in mission-critical enterprise applications, SyncRAID technology uses a striped-parity approach that stores redundant backup information in case any individual drive fails and the data must be regenerated. However, instead of employing RAID5’s read-modify-write process, which degrades write performance, SyncRAID implements a patented synchronous disk striping and hardware-based exclusive-OR (XOR) technique so that parity calculations can occur at the maximum rate of the disk drive’s input/output for both reads and writes, in parallel. As a result, the dedicated protection drive does not reduce the additive performance of the main drives.
A four-drive SyncRAID 0 and five-drive SyncRAID parity-striped array has been demonstrated to deliver an effective 190 to 200 Mbytes/s of sustained read throughput, and up to 120Mbytes/s of sustained write throughput, using off-the-shelf 7200RPM ATA/SATA class drives, using just 5% utilization of the CPU. Combined with the cost advantages of ATA and SATA drives, this high-performance streaming bandwidth will enable high-definition uncompressed video editing, and will bring a new performance capability to high-end desktop PCs at consumer price points.
For the AMD Athlon 64 processing platform, using current 200-gigabyte drive technology, a five-port product based on SyncRAID technology will enable up to 800 gigabytes of data to be stored on four striped drives that appear to the host as a single storage unit. Adding an additional 200-gigabyte drive for parity allows the entire 800 gigabytes to be protected against single-drive failure without negatively affecting performance. According to NetCell, it will be possible to create this 800-gigabyte “super drive” at as little as one-seventh the cost of an equivalent enterprise-class SCSI-based RAID5 storage unit, while achieving up to twice the write performance for large streaming files.
SyncRAID technology will provide the foundation for a family of single-chip 32-bit and 64-bit multi-disk storage controllers that the company plans to announce beginning in Q4. Storage products based on NetCell’s technology will be aimed at high-end entertainment PCs and graphics workstations used in media-intensive applications. Early customers have already received alpha samples. LSI Logic is fabricating the initial devices.
Andy Mills, President and CEO (most recently SVP and GM of TDK Semiconductor’s Broadband Communications Group)
Norm Towson, Co-founder & VP of Business Development (previously CEO of Silicon Valley Computer and GM of Morrow Designs)
Michael Stolowitz , Co-founder & CTO (previously an independent design consultant for Intel, Harris Digital Telephone, Memorex and others)
David Dutra, Co-founder & VP Software Development (previously Dir. of Eng. at Silicon Valley Computer and VP of Engineering at DynaByte)