Feature

Speed wars: Fibre Channel vs. Ethernet

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The appeal of 10Gb/sec Ethernet over copper is evident, but can it displace Fibre Channel in the data center?

BRACE YOURSELF FOR ANOTHER ROUND OF THE PERPETUAL storage networking competition of whose pipe is the fastest. Just as Fibre Channel (FC) pulls significantly ahead in the performance race with 4Gb/sec speed, IP/Ethernet is about to leapfrog FC with 10Gb/sec Ethernet over copper wire. And no sooner will data centers have absorbed 4Gb/sec FC than 8Gb/sec will arrive.

Do data center storage managers care about faster pipes? Judging from the current demand for high-speed storage networking links, perhaps not. In a survey conducted last June by the Milford, MA-based Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), 50% of respondents reported using 1Gb/sec FC. "At that time, 2Gb/sec FC was just beginning to be widely deployed and 4Gb/sec FC was about to start up," says Tony Asaro, senior analyst at ESG. Based on that survey, "the market isn't demanding 8Gb/sec or 10Gb/sec," he concludes. "It's not yet even demanding 4Gb/sec FC."

But analysts see two uses for the greater storage networking speeds: disk-to-disk backup and disk archiving, and storage port consolidation. "This is about backup to disk and using 10Gb/sec as an aggregation point," says ESG's Asaro.

It's unclear if FC or IP/Ethernet will become the storage network of choice at this point. FC is the well-entrenched, high-performance storage networking technology

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in the data center. In a presentation last spring on storage networking trends, James Opfer, a research vice president in Gartner's San Jose, CA, offices, predicted that "iSCSI at 10Gb/sec everywhere will challenge FC in the SAN." Other analysts aren't so sure.

For data center managers intending to pursue faster storage networking links, the choice of FC or IP/Ethernet involves more than just the raw wire speed. They have to consider their existing investment in storage networking technology, their skill sets and the economics of each, just as they do now. Other factors, such as the need for TCP/IP offload engines or coordination with the corporate networking group, may also weigh in.

This was first published in February 2006

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