The debugging and validation of Fibre Channel-based products is a necessary evil of getting peripherals to market. Designers must measure and optimize their products’ performance before launch, and later, in the field, they must be able to isolate problems. They also must confirm that these products are interoperable with other Fibre Channel-based system components and ensure that they conform to the standard’s specifications. And, system integrators need tools they can use to sort out complex system configurations, in which many elements are interacting.
Now that 8-Gbit/s Fibre Channel is beginning to make waves in the market as a replacement for older 4-Gbit/s networks, especially in data centers with many servers requiring access to centralized storage, there’s even greater need for protocol analyzers that are ready for the higher bandwidth. That’s where LeCroy Protocol Solutions Group’s SierraFC M8-4 (see the figure) 8-Gbit/s protocol test platform comes in. The system’s multi-function capability allows it to perform traffic generation, error injection, and conformance testing.
The M8-4 is the latest addition to the company’s line of modular protocol analyzers, which provide a flexible alternative to competing multi-blade platforms. Each SierraFC platform is a standalone protocol analyzer. But when cascading multiple units, users can easily scale to higher port counts of up to 32 ports. They also can provide capture, time syncing, and cross-correlation of mixed-protocol networks.
The instrument provides a front-panel Gigabit Ethernet port for a PC running analysis software as well as a USB port. Also on the front panel is a status display for error conditions and linkup indication and four Fibre Channel ports in addition to trigger in/out ports.
One of the more useful aspects of the company’s family of protocol analyzers is its ability to mix protocols. The SierraFC M8-4 is the latest member of a larger family that includes analyzers for the SAS, SATA, and PCI Express protocols. Units for any and all of these protocols can be stacked and synced together so, for example, SAS traffic can be correlated with Fibre Channel traffic at the front end of a storage system. All of the analyzers in the family are around the size of a notebook PC and are rack-mountable.
In the software that comes bundled with the SierraFC M8-4 analyzer, LeCroy has built in some ease-of-use features that can get users up and running quickly. “We included options that enable users to have a familiar user experience if they’re moving over from a competitive product,” says Kevin Carney, LeCroy Protocol Solution Group’s product line manager for storage protocol products.
Additionally, there is flexibility in terms of how data is displayed. “Most products have one fixed data-display format,” explains Carney. “We offer users a choice of three formats that can be mixed together in a single view.” Data can be viewed in a tabular spreadsheet format that shows frames or other bus events in chronological order. However, this format can fall short for those seeking to reassemble full exchanges. Full exchanges of read commands in Fibre Channel may consist of scores of frames that don’t necessarily arrive in chronological order. For these instances, the software offers a logical view that shows the component sequences that make up the exchange. A third view is a hierarchical view that shows link-level information.
The Fibre Channel version is an addition to an existing line of Sierra products, for which SAS and SATA products are already available. The SierraFC M8-4 analyzer is available now with prices starting at around $24,000 including analysis software.