Speed wars: Fibre Channel vs. Ethernet


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Backup to disk and consolidation
These fast storage pipes will appeal to companies adopting disk-based backup and archiving strategies, and those looking to consolidate storage infrastructures. "The faster speeds are going to become important when companies back up to disk. That's where the big pipes will come into play first," says Asaro. Backup to disk and data archiving can saturate a 2Gb/sec pipe today and have the potential to saturate a 4Gb/sec pipe in the future. When that happens, 8Gb/sec FC and 10Gb/sec Ethernet will be waiting in the wings.

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Implementing 10Gb/sec Ethernet
Implementing 10Gb/sec Ethernet over copper may not be as simple as upgrading from 1Gb/sec or 2Gb/sec Fibre Channel to 4Gb/sec. "10Gb/sec Ethernet impacts more than just storage. It impacts the corporate network and LAN connectivity," says Tony Asaro, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, MA. Whatever the storage manager decides, it will most likely have to be done after consulting with the corporate networking group. Implementation options include the following:
  • Put everything--storage and corporate networking--on a new or upgraded converged 10Gb/sec Ethernet backbone.
  • Use an extra NIC in each host to create a separate 10Gb/sec Ethernet path just for storage.
  • Run two distinct networks, one for storage and one for corporate networking.
Which option you choose will depend on traffic volume, network architecture and cost.

The greatest interest in high-speed storage connections currently comes from big companies concerned about backup/recovery and archiving, according to TheInfoPro Inc., a New York research firm that tracks technology adoption. In its latest survey, it found respondents were looking at fast storage networking links, especially 4Gb/sec FC, for virtual tape libraries, disk staging, disk-to-disk services, data classification and archiving technologies. More than 60% of respondents were using, piloting or planning for 4Gb/sec FC technology. By comparison, approximately 45% said they were using or planning to use 10Gb/sec Ethernet.

Port consolidation may also drive the transition to faster pipes. A 4Gb/sec FC port can support twice as many servers as a 2Gb/sec port, while 8Gb/sec can support twice as many servers as 4Gb/sec. The improvement is even greater with 10Gb/sec Ethernet. In a recent report, Marc Staimer, president of Beaverton, OR-based Dragon Slayer Consulting, says that with 10Gb/sec Ethernet over copper, the shared storage ratio increases by an order of magnitude without the current premium price tag and other drawbacks of optical 10Gb/sec.

By 2007, the price of a 10Gb/sec Ethernet over copper port will be down to $1,000 or less, estimates Charlie Kraus, director of LSI Logic's host bus adapter (HBA) business unit. By pumping dozens, or even a hundred or more, servers through each port, the cost of each server connection becomes negligible.

With that level of port density, the economics of 10Gb/sec Ethernet over copper look more attractive, especially to large enterprises that have relied on FC for high-density port sharing. "We see 10Gb/sec Ethernet as an aggregation point. Companies will take a bunch of 1Gb/sec servers coming into the switch and connect them through a 10Gb/sec pipe to the storage," says Asaro.

This was first published in February 2006

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