Intel said this week that it plans to launch its embedded storage chip, codenamed Jasper Forest, in the next several days. Intel mentioned its storage chip's impending release as part of its announcement that it was going to market with its long-awaited high-end Itanium processor, code-named Tukwila.

The Forest Jasper chip, an enhanced version of Intel's Nehalem Xeon chip, is aimed specifically at the data storage and communications market. It is expected to be able to be integrated with PCI Express (PCIe) and to natively create RAID. The chip is expected to consolidate storage management workloads, such as data deduplication, data snap shots, virtualisation and any basic storage management requirements.

Arun Taneja, founder of storage market research firm Taneja Group, said that as general purpose processors add additional cores and specialised functions (such as RAID processing or hardware-based processing of virtualisation), the storage systems designer's job becomes easier in that he does not have to attach specialised hardware to get decent performance.

"This could not be happening at a better time since a virtual server supports a lot more than a single application and performs many storage functions that were otherwise performed elsewhere," he said.

Intel said it would be releasing the names of some early customers for Jasper Forest, both in the embedded market and storage realm. The processor is aimed at applications such as ultra-dense blades, IPTV, VoIP, network-attached storage (NAS) and storage area networks (SAN). The new Jasper Forest processors are capable of configuring disk drives in an array as a RAID 5 or 6, protecting against single- or dual-disk failure, respectively.

Intel first debuted its Nehalem-based Xeon microprocessor last April.

Intel's storage chip also supports the Storage Bridge Bay specification, which can be used to plug control boards directly into storage arrays, allowing for a denser architecture. Today, storage controllers require a separate blade slot.

Intel said the Jasper Forest chip is expected to reduce overall storage systems power consumption by 27 watts when compared to the Intel Xeon 5500 series. The dual-core Intel Xeon integrates two Jasper Forest processors with 16 PCIe Generation 2.0 lanes each and is paired with the Intel 3420 chipset platform controller hub. This integration of the I/O hub via PCIe enables significant power and space savings, resulting in one of the highest performance-per-watt Intel Xeon chips ever.

Jasper Forest also provides a scalable option to system designers ranging from a a single-core, 23-watt processor to a quad-core, 85-watt processor using the same socket.

The chips are expected to be able to protect against data loss due to power failure with a function called Integrated Asynchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory Self-Refresh memory. The feature automatically detects a power failure as it's happening and enables memory controller sequences to finish and forces the system memory to a self refresh before shutting down.