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8-gig era officially begins

QLogic this week became the third vendor to claim it is the first to ship 8 Gbit/sg Fibre Channel equipment.

QLogic says its 8Gb PCI-Express HBAs and 8-gig switches are available as a Hewlett-Packard StorageWorks 8Gb Simple SAN Connection Kit  and from QLogic distributors. Although other vendors claim to have 8-gig devices, QLogic marketing vice president Frank Berry said his rivals aren’t shipping those products yet. That’s news to Brocade and Emulex. IBM, Sun and NetApp have said they are offering Brocade’s 8-gig DCX Backbone director, and Emulex lists Ingram Micro and TechData among the distributors selling its 8-gig HBAs.

But QLogic is the first vendor to offer up a real live 8-gig user. Managed hosting services firm InteleNet Communications has been testing QLogic 8-gig HBAs and switches , and general manager Carlos Oliviera expects to be an early adopter. InteleNet provides storage, security, networking, data backup and disaster recovery services out of a 55,000 square foot data center located in Irvine, Calif., and a smaller data center in Denver.

Oliviera said 8-gig Fibre Channel gear will help InteleNet provide better service for its customers in several ways.

“Our machines are diskless,” Oliviera said. “We started testing 8-gig equipment to enhance the speed of data transfers. We have customers with a high demand for utilization; they need to open several applications on the same machines. They need high I/O.

“And we’re seeing a lot of demand for disaster recovery where they replicate content across different disk controllers over the SAN, and they want to get that done as fast as possible.”

Besides the performance boost, Oliviera said 8-gig lets him connect more actual and virtual servers to his storage and adds redundancy. He expects to add 8-gig to his production system by mid-year when InteleNet installs its next 50-server rack.

InteleNet is probably the exception at this point for seeing value in 8-gig. Not even the storage vendors expect customers to move to 8-gig as fast as they went from 2- to 4-gig a few years back. The 8-gig HBAs and switches will cost about 15 percent more than 4-gig gear at the start. And the 8-gig ecosystem will take longer to develop. No system vendors have disclosed plans for 8-gig systems yet, and hard drive vendors probably won’t ever develop 8-gig Fibre Channel drives.

But Oliviera said the more expensive 8-gig gear makes sense for him because it lets his company add revenue through new customers. “The return on investment is still very good,” he said. “One of things that pushed this is virtualization. Now we can sell a lot more serivces with the same resources, which gives us a better ROI.”

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Why no interest from the hard drive vendors?
Because most hard-drive vendors are aware of two things. 1. Most users don't even utilize the 1Gbit they had originally. Going to 2BGit and then 4Gbit is pure marketing. The "Bigger-better-faster-more" crowd loves it. :) 2. Cached disk arrays that spread the IO load across the back end means that even if the switch-to-array speed is 8G, the distributed IO won't even approach the 4G point. 3. Drive transfer rates don't even come remotely close to the 8G limit, so when writing to a disk you're still at the mercy of the physical limitations of the drive. The only exception to this *MIGHT* be in the case of Tier-0 or SSD disks, where the Solid State nature of the drive enables massive ultra-fast transfers.
4. Apparently storage geeks sometimes forget how to count. :)
So, then the question is, will the array vendors "play the marketing game" and include 8Gb enclosure backplanes on their roadmap for SSD or HDD (even if it is just for marketing's sake)? Is this a chicken and egg problem? I imagine if drives had 8Gb FC interfaces array vendors would wind up supporting it at least in a portion of their array and vice-versa.
Probably - marketing is a powerful force. :) I would say that if EMC asks Seagate to produce an 8GBit disk it will happen, EMC is probably Seagate's single largest customer in the grand scheme of things. (With HDS a close second) And I'll give you a hint. EMC Engineering is not going to be the driving force, EMC Marketing will be. Their favourite words are "First to market with...." (fill in the blank)
This solution is priced agressively by HP, below current 4Gb offerings in some cases. The arguement for new SAN customers then becomes why not 8Gb? There are also other things to look at with the HP solution such as the management software and scalability over previous simple SAN kits from HP.