Fibre Channel SAN switches tutorial

A business about to buy its first SAN might consider an iSCSI SAN, which can make use of the existing Ethernet switching and IP infrastructure. But most companies that have already deployed a SAN have a substantial investment in Fibre Channel switches to connect their servers and storage devices.

Companies looking to implement Fibre Channel SANs need to purchase the right switch from the right vendor. In this tutorial, you will learn how to decide on the right Fibre Channel SAN switch, and how to maintain switch performance.

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How to select a Fibre Channel switch for your SAN
>> Best practices for Fibre Channel switching environments

Selecting a Fibre Channel switch for your SAN

For any organization building a SAN, the switch is a key decision point . The switch inspects a data packet, determines where it came from and where it's going, then forwards the packet to the intended storage destination in the data center.

Fibre Channel SAN switches serve the same general purpose as any other network switches: automatically connecting senders and receivers.

But a Fibre Channel switch was specifically designed to handle heavy transaction loads over high-performance Fibre Channel networks. The two main types of Fibre Channel SAN switches are the high port-count, modular director switch and the smaller fixed-port or semi-modular switch. As a company expands its SAN environment, it can enable additional ports by using a software license key to unlock them.

Read more about how to select a Fibre Channel switch for your SAN.

Best practices for Fibre Channel switching environments

Companies looking to implement a Fibre Channel SAN should know that it's a bad idea to mix and match brands.

Fibre Channel switches have to communicate and cooperate with each other to manage the overall fabric. The best way to make sure that happens is to choose a switch from top vendors like Brocade Communications Systems, Cisco Systems or QLogic.

"There's a standard for this communication [between the switches], but the standard is kind of a weak, least common denominator of the functions required to build a SAN," says Gartner analyst Robert Passmore. "All of the switch vendors have a much more robust overall set of management functions that are proprietary to [each of them]."

There are a few best practices common to all Fibre Channel switching environments, including:

  • Planning considerations
  • The building of two independent Fibre Channel fabrics for redundancy
  • The technical side of management
  • The personnel side of management
  • Security
  • Virtual servers
  • Read more about the best practices for FC switching environments.

    This was first published in December 2008

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