"Fibre Down" just fluff?
Recently, QLogic Corp. announced what it called "the beginning of a new era in Fibre Channel connectivity" by integrating Fibre Channel ports directly into servers and workstations at the motherboard level, without the overhead of host bus adapters that require PCI expansion slots. This approach is sometimes known as "Fibre Down." Indeed, Sun Microsystems, Inc. has adopted the technology with the integration of the QLogic ISP2200 Fibre Channel controller chip into its 900MHz Sun Blade 1000 workstation.
To incorporate Fibre Channel ports directly on the server motherboard is a natural progression for Fibre Channel, much like it was for SCSI, notes Arun Taneja, analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, Milford, Mass. "This only becomes possible when chip densities are high and cost low," he says, adding, "QLogic has the advantage in that their Fibre Channel chip densities are already 4 ports/ASIC for the 1Gb version and 16 for the 2Gb version."
"I think this is also good for Fibre Channel in that ports on the motherboard tend to get used a lot since they are 'free' once you have bought the system," adds Taneja. The Fibre Down approach could keep Fibre Channel from losing out prematurely to InfiniBand, which is also aiming to integrate itself right on the motherboard, he says.
However, William Hurley, an analyst with Yankee Group, Boston, Mass., warns that the QLogic announcement may be more fluff than substance. In this case, he indicates that the advantages of operating from the motherboard may not outweigh the disadvantages. "In high-denstiy server environments, reducing slots consumed can reduce clutter and improve the profile size of the server," he admits.
But, he continues, "To ensure failover, one bus adapter must be installed to guarantee high availability." Additionally, he notes, a Fibre-related chip failure on the motherboard may mean replacing the entire board.
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About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.