3PAR has added a specialised chip, which will offload a key function for storage efficiency from the main processors, to a pair of forthcoming server models.

The storage servers, originally introduced in 2002, are purpose-built for data centres using virtualisation and designed to reduce the amount of effort required to manage storage in those environments. This includes allocation of storage capacity for particular applications, said Craig Nunes, vice president of marketing at 3PAR.

3PAR's storage servers are designed to save both storage space and IT managers' time by automatically allocating capacity across a disk array. They can either set aside a certain amount of storage for each application, as defined by the administrator, or allocate just the amount of space the application really needs.

The 3PAR Gen3 ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) can handle either task, as well as the migration between them. The chip is built into the company's new InServ T400 and T800 Storage Servers and is the first chip that can make that shift, according to 3PAR. Previously, the company's gear has done so with software. Handling such tasks in hardware typically makes them run faster.

However, customers will have to wait until the next version of the 3PAR InForm operating system to tap into the ASIC's new capability, Nunes said. He declined to say when the new software would be available.

Like 3PAR's last ASIC, the new chip also includes 3PAR Fast RAID 5, a system for distributing data across multiple drives so it remains available in case of a failure. RAID 5 requires less overall space than RAID 1, which uses two complete copies of the data, but it runs more slowly. 3PAR's Fast RAID 5 speeds that up by putting it in hardware, Nunes said.

The T400 and T800 servers each are made up of several controllers, or blades, that communicate via a backplane in the server. The T400 can have between two and four controllers and the T800 can have as many as eight, Nunes said. In addition to the servers, 3PAR sells the disk arrays that go with them. The company builds its systems mostly from third-party components but designed the ASIC itself over the course of two or three years, he said.

The InServ T800 Storage server is priced starting at $175,000 (£98,000) for a base configuration with two controllers and 16 146GB drives. The T400 is priced from $130,000.