Here comes 8Gig Fibre Channel


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End to end
At this point, 8Gb/sec FC is available for the server and switch components of the SAN. Here's the rub for the storage architect: "Behind the switch, you still have 4Gb/sec storage," notes Lustig. Even with HP, which has been actively cheerleading 8Gb/sec FC, the storage arrays remain at 4Gb/sec. "For complete 8Gb/sec throughput end to end, you'll need 8Gb/sec to the disk array," says the firm's Fitze.

There's usually a lag between when new technology components are introduced and when they're built into general-purpose storage arrays. HP expects to release an 8Gb/sec EVA array in 2009. Other vendors will probably follow in the same timeframe.

The industry will follow what it did with the previous FC speed transition; the 8Gb/sec components will automatically sense slower components and ratchet down the speed. As a result, the best an organization can do, end to end, today is 4Gb/sec--unless it wants to aggregate pairs of 4Gb/sec array ports.

Specialty storage vendor Facilis Technology Inc. demonstrated an end-to-end 8Gb/sec FC SAN for use in the high-resolution video industry in April using 8Gb/sec FC components from Atto Technology Inc. But like general-purpose storage vendors, Facilis is taking time to do the final engineering. "We're waiting for boards so we can do more testing and benchmarking," says Kathy Kane, director of business development.

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New SAN offerings
Brocade Communications Systems Inc. recently announced the availability of 8Gb/sec FC switches and HBAs. Beyond speed, Brocade is promising to build in advanced capabilities for QoS and support for virtual server mobility through dynamic state migration of link and port personality profiles.

IBM Corp. has announced three new 8Gb/sec switches: IBM System Storage SAN24B-4, SAN40B-4 and SAN80B-4. Pricing starts at $5,360, and the switches have higher port counts (up to 24, 40 and 80 ports, respectively) and, according to IBM, consume less power than previous models. IBM is also releasing three new 8Gb/sec switch blades for the IBM TotalStorage SAN256B director. And Cisco Systems Inc. will offer a "transparent" upgrade to 8Gb/sec for its MDS 9500 Series directors in Q4.

InfiniBand update

  • InfiniBand is an industry standard, channel-based, switched-fabric interconnect protocol for servers and storage. Today, it offers three levels of performance: 2.5Gb/sec, 10Gb/sec and 30Gb/sec for low-latency, high-aggregate throughput.

  • InfiniBand is deployed primarily between servers in clusters for the purposes of high performance or failover. It's positioned to be complementary to Fibre Channel and 10GbE. The InfiniBand Trade Association envisions storage networks connecting into the edge of the InfiniBand fabric to communicate with the high-performance compute resources found there.

  • "InfiniBand is mainly for high-performance computing. It has limited opportunities in enterprise storage," says Mike Karp, senior analyst at Boulder-based Enterprise Management Associates. "How many protocols do you really want to support in your data center?"

This was first published in July 2008

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