HP kit gives 8Gb/sec FC a boost

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Storage magazine: iSCSI: Ready for prime time?:

HP'S STORAGEWORKS 8Gb Simple SAN Connection Kit is the first 8Gb/sec Fibre Channel (FC) SAN aimed at remote offices and small- and medium-sized businesses.

The FC SAN can support up to four hosts and, if you don't add in the cost of the storage, pricing comes to a little more than $1,000 a port. "A fairly aggressive price considering the newness of the [8Gb/sec FC] technology," says Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group, Stillwater, MN.

For $8,199, you receive an 8/20q FC Switch (eight ports enabled; upgradeable to 12, 16 or 20 ports), Simple SAN Connection Manager software, four PCI-e FC host bus adapters (HBAs), cables, 10 8Gb/sec Short Wave SFP+ optical transceivers for the HBAs, and wizard-driven software to install/manage the SAN and to provision the array.

But don't expect 8Gb/sec throughput from the switch to storage. HP's Simple SAN Connection Kit only works with its 4Gb/sec Enterprise Virtual Arrays (EVAs) and 2Gb/sec and 4Gb/sec Modular Smart Arrays (MSAs), which means self-configuring ports must slow down to accommodate the array's slower speeds.

Sherry Davenport, SAN infrastructure marketing at HP, says the 8Gb/sec storage arrays won't be released until 2009, but believes "it's wise to prepare for 8Gb/sec now, in easy-to-manage stages."

Richard L. Villars, VP, storage systems at Framingham, MA-based IDC, concurs. "With continued levels of consolidation and the use of more powerful multicore servers ... the move to 8Gb/sec makes perfect sense," he says. "2008 is the logical time to begin the transition to the next generation of FC."

As data continues to grow, the need for speedier SANs becomes more apparent. Going from 4Gb/sec to 8Gb/sec lets you back up twice the amount of data in the same window and reduce disk-to-disk replication times. New storage-hogging apps, such as streaming media and online HD video, are becoming more prevalent. And 8Gb/sec makes it possible to double the number of virtual machines (VMs) per server without reducing the throughput of each VM.

Moving from 4Gb/sec to 8Gb/sec FC isn't a total out-with-the-old and in-with-the-new migration, but a start-and-stop process. According to Schulz, the HP 8Gb Simple SAN Connection Kit "lays the groundwork for moving forward [to other 8Gb/sec devices]."

The new package supports Microsoft Windows Server 2003, Red Hat Enterprise Linux and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 10 for its HBAs and switch. In the future, says Davenport, OS support will be expanded to include additional Linux distributions, Microsoft Windows Server 2008, VMware ESX v3.5, HP-UX, OpenVMS, Solaris and NetWare, but HP won't say when the additional OS support will be released.

Davenport claims the FC SAN, using installation wizards, can be "set up in minutes." The management software lets a storage admin configure and zone the switch and HBAs, and provision the EVA or MSA storage arrays (map and mask LUNs, and create and expand virtual disks) within one GUI.

In addition to basic array housekeeping, the management software delivers useful SAN reports and views, including performance and health statistics, change tracking, device management, drag-and-drop zoning, event notification and a view of the SAN topology.

The HP StorageWorks 8/20q FC switch (OEM'd from QLogic) supports security and high-availability features such as CHAP, Radius authentication, SSL/SSH and port binding. It also supports multiswitch networks (up to three hops) and two switches can go in the SAN for redundancy. HP StorageWorks 81Q PCI-e FC HBAs (also OEM'd from QLogic) have several features that make them easier to work with in a virtualized server environment: multiple logical (virtual) connections to share the same physical ports, 256 queue pairs for intensive virtualization and the ability to prioritize queues to prevent conflicts.

The speed wars between 10Gb/sec Ethernet and 8Gb/sec FC have begun.

--Rich Friedman

This was first published in April 2008

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