What a difference a few months can make. "A year ago, I wouldn't have bet that 4Gb Fibre Channel [FC] would go anywhere," says Charlie Kraus, director of marketing for the host bus adapter (HBA) unit of LSI Logic Storage Standard Product Division, which plans to ship 4Gb/s HBAs in mid-2004. But now, the current thinking seems to be "Ten gig is so expensive, maybe an incremental step makes sense."
And for once, this doesn't appear to be an exclusively vendor-driven technology change. "I've had customers specifically ask me for four gig," says Tony DiCenzo, director of industry marketing for Brocade, which announced its support for the standard last October, at Storage Networking World in Orlando, FL. Large system OEMs are also eager to get their hands on 4Gb/s technology, he says.
Drive vendors started the craze when they decided that 10Gb speeds didn't make sense all the way to the drive. Last month, Hitachi Global Storage Technologies, the company's disk drive manufacturing arm, demonstrated 4Gb/s FC data transfers between drives on a Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop (FCAL). Emulex has also announced a 4Gb/s version of its InSpeed embedded storage switch, which came with the purchase of Vixel Corp. late last year.
Then "once all the heavy-lifting SERDES [Serializer/deserializers] work was done, it was a no-brainer for host bus adapter vendors," Kraus says of HBA and switch vendors' decision to adopt the 4Gb/s standard.
Other vendors that have announced support for 4Gb/s FC include McData and QLogic. Initial shipments are expected midyear, but it probably won't be until the beginning of 2005 before "every component you might want to build a SAN" will be shipping, predicts Brocade's DiCenzo.
How much will 4Gb/s technology cost? Not double 2Gb/s, that much seems certain. Kraus expects LSI's dual-ported 4Gb/s HBA to retail for only about 10% more than the equivalent 2Gb/s product. Meanwhile, 10Gb/s FC cards are as of yet unavailable, but prices for 10Gb/s Ethernet cards remain "eye-watering," Kraus says--between $5,000 to $6,000 for Intel's PRO/10GbE LR Server Adapter.