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Dell’Oro: FC back on top in networked storage ports in 2015

Fibre Channel (FC) took back the port count lead over Ethernet in external storage systems in 2015, after Ethernet had gone ahead in 2014, according to Dell’Oro Group’s latest numbers.

Chris DePuy, a vice president at Dell’Oro, noted that his market research showed FC ports gained share over Ethernet despite declining in overall ports shipped. The Dell’Oro forecast projects that FC ports shipped on external storage systems will grow 3.7% this year, while the number of Ethernet ports on external storage systems will decline by close to 1%.

“Fibre Channel’s going to take share,” DePuy said, “but it’s a very modest growth market in terms of ports attached to external storage systems.”

Here are the Dell’Oro’s figures for the past three years along with projected 2016 totals:

Networked port

Note: The table does not include SAS or InfiniBand ports. 2016 numbers are projected.

DePuy attributed the FC share growth to enterprises moving to higher bandwidth 16 Gbps FC and adopting all-flash or hybrid arrays, which combine solid-state drives (SSDs) and hard disk drives (HDDs).

“For companies that have been using Fibre Channel historically, they’re very likely to continue to use Fibre Channel,” DePuy said. He said it would cost more if they switched to something else to upgrade their network.

Dell’Oro’s 2016 projections show the total number of networked ports on external storage systems will grow 1.5% this year, after at least three consecutive years of decline. But, DePuy said he expects the reversal to be temporary. He pointed out that the 2016 projected total of 3.683 million networked ports on external storage systems is still lower than the 3.949 million ports in 2013. His projected numbers show both FC and Ethernet with fewer ports in 2016 than in 2013.

“The real trend is away from networked storage,” DePuy said.

DePuy cited the use of servers with internal storage, including hyper-converged infrastructure, and direct-attached storage (DAS) as areas of growth. He defines DAS as the storage enclosure, or JBOD device, attached to a server.

“It has a lot to do with what’s going on with cloud service providers. They are purchasing a very different architecture than enterprises historically have used,” he said. “They use software-defined storage on top of standardized servers. And that is very similar to the hyper-converged products that branded vendors are selling now to enterprises.”

Here are DePuy’s rounded estimates for the number of external storage units:


Source: Dell’Oro Group

“We’re seeing a shift towards direct-attached and away from networked – in other words, the kind that use Fibre Channel and Ethernet,” DePuy said.

He noted that the external storage unit statistics specifically exclude servers with internal storage and hyper-converged infrastructure – an area for which Dell’Oro has not publicly released data.

DePuy said the number of adapter cards or built-in Ethernet in servers significantly outstrips the total of all ports on external devices. Ethernet ports outnumber FC ports by 2.5 to 1 when DePuy considers networked ports associated with internal storage systems and server ports associated with directed-attached external storage units.

Despite the growth challenges for networked external storage, vendors have been able to maintain their revenue roughly flat over the past few years through the introduction of products such as software-defined storage, hybrid cloud and hyper-converged systems, DePuy said.

“The big picture here is that enterprises looking at storage have an awful lot of choices that they have to make,” DePuy said. “And it’s getting more complex, not less complex, than it has been in the recent past.”