Rumors of Fibre Channel’s Death are Greatly Exaggerated

If you believed all the media hype and vendor pontifcations three years ago, you would have thought for sure that Fibre Channel was teetering on the edge of oblivion. According to industry hype, 10Gbps Ethernet and the FCoE protocol were certain to be the demise of Fibre Channel. One Analyst even went so far as to state, “IP based storage networking technologies represent the future of storage”.  Well as they say, “Don’t believe everything you read”.

In spite of a media blitz designed to convince everyone that Fibre Channel was going extinct, industry shipments and FC implementation by IT storage professionals continued to blossom.  As 16Gbps Fibre Channel rapidly grew in acceptance, the excitement around 10GbE diminished. In a Dell’Oro Group report for 4Q12, fibre channel Director, switch, and adapter revenues surpassed $650 million, while FCoE champion Cisco suffered through soft quarterly results.

So what makes Fibre Channel network technology so resilient?

Simplicity – FCP was designed with a singular purpose in mind, and does not have to contend with a complex protocol stack.
Performance – a native 16Gbps FC port is 40% faster than a 10GbE network, and it too can be trunked to provide aggregate ISL bandwidth up to 128 Gbps.
Low Latency – FC fabric is not penalized by the additional 2-hop latency imposed by routing data packets through a NAS server before it’s written to disk.
Parity of Cost – The dramatic reduction in expense promised by FCoE has failed to materialize. The complexity and cost of pushing data at NN_Ghz is fairly consistent, regardless of what protocol it used.
Efficiency – Having a Fibre Channel back-end network supports such capabilities as LAN-less backup technology, high speed data migration, block-level storage virtualization, and in-fabric encryption.

An excellent indicator that Fibre Channel is not falling from favor is Cisco’s recent announcement of their new 16Gbps MDS 9710 Multilayer Director and MultiService Fabric Switch. Cisco was a major proponent of 10GbE and the FCoE protocol, and failed to update their aging MDS 9500 family of Fibre Channel Directors and FC switches. (http://searchstorage.techtarget.com/news/2240182444/Cisco-FC-director-and-switch-moves-to-16-Gbps-new-chassis) This left Brocade with a lion’s share of a rapidly growing 16 Gbps Fibre Channel market. For Brocade, it produced a record quarter for FC switch revenues, while Cisco struggled with sagging sales.

Another influencing factor in FC longevity of is the average IT department’s need for extremely high-bandwidth storage network capabilities. Prior to 10GbE technology, Ethernet LANs performed quite well at 1GbE (or some trunked variation of 1GbE). The majority of the fibre channel world still depends upon 4Gbps FC, with 8Gbps technology recently starting to make significant inroads in the data center. Given the fairly leisurely pace of migration to higher performance for the SAN and NAS fabric technology. Except for a fairly small percent of IT departments that actually require high performance / high throughput, the lure of a faster interface alone has a limited amount of allure.

So which network technology will win?  Who knows (or even cares)?  There are usually bigger issues to overcome than what the back-end “plumbing” is made of.  It’s far more important to implement the most appropriate technology for the task at hand.  That could be Ethernet, Fibre Channel, Infiniband, or some other future network scheme.  The key is to select your approach based on functionality and efficiency, not what is being hyped as “the next great thing” in the industry.  In spite of all the hyperbole, Fibre Channel isn’t going away any time soon.

As Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain) said after hearing that his obituary had been published in the New York Journal, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”.

About Big Data Challenges

Mr. Randy Cochran is a Senior Storage Architect at Data Center Enhancements Inc.. He has over 42-years of experience as an IT professional, with specific expertise in large and complex SAN/NAS/DAS storage architectures. He is recoginzed as a Subject Matter Expert in the enterprise storage field. For the past five years his primary focus has been on addressing the operational requirements and challenges presented by petabyte-level storage.

Posted on April 25, 2013, in Topology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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