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Adoption of 32 Gbps Fibre Channel being driven by flash

Flash, along with more and bigger workloads and more demanding applications, is driving businesses to switch from 8 Gbps and 16 Gbps FC to 32 Gbps FC storage environments.

Long ago -- say, the late 1980s -- in a data center storage environment far away, Fibre Channel was born. Since...

then, the International Committee for Information Technology Standards, an American National Standards Institute-accredited committee, has developed many new versions of the popular storage interconnection technology.

The early days of 133 Mbps Fibre Channel SAN storage are long gone. FC speeds doubled on average every 18 to 36 months through 2011 when 16 Gbps Fibre Channel connectivity was introduced.

32 Gbps Fibre Channel

In 2016, 32 Gbps Fibre Channel hit the market. The five-year gap between the 16 Gbps and the 32 Gbps Fibre Channel variants was the longest in the technology's history, but the standards body is aiming to get back on track with 64 Gbps Gen 7 FC slated for 2019 and 128 Gbps Gen 8 technology expected in 2022.

Note that I'm using Gbps as the speed metric. In reality, this is the maximum throughput for an FC variant. There are other speed metrics, such as Gbaud, that describe the line rate of the technology. For example, 32GFC -- the product name for 32 Gbps Fibre Channel -- has a throughput max of 32 MBps and a line rate of about 28 Gbaud. You may see FC speeds in terms of full duplex communication, in which case 32GFC would support 64 MBps throughput, because communication in both directions is added together to get the total throughput.

Fibre Channel development

Fibre Channel has fallen behind Ethernet in terms of raw, advertised speed, but the industry is working to correct this deficiency. The advent of 32 Gbps Fibre Channel has made sticking with Fibre Channel SAN storage a realistic option.

What's the role of flash?

Flash will be one of the biggest drivers of 32 Gbps Gen 6 Fibre Channel.

Its first role, of course, is workload performance. As you deploy more and bigger workloads on your 8 Gbps or 16 Gbps FC network, you may find latency related to bandwidth in your storage interconnect. If you're still running hard drives, you might not see much of this, and a move to 32 Gbps Fibre Channel won't do much for your Fibre Channel storage environment. But as you deploy more flash media, it becomes more likely that you'll begin to saturate the interconnect. You may find that moving to 32 Gbps FC alleviates the congestion and helps you maximize your flash investment. Flash will be one of the biggest drivers of 32 Gbps Gen 6 Fibre Channel.

And it's not just the flash on your storage systems that's going to have an effect on Fibre Channel decision-making. As the world becomes increasingly enamored with scale-out architectures, we're seeing more caching mechanisms in hosts. Getting data quickly from storage to flash-based caches on hosts is important.

Doubling the capability of your storage interconnect also enables more scaling opportunities than you had before. As you continue to grow your environment, eventually, you will tap out your communications channels and need to move to newer technology to continue to scale. It's not just a flash-driven need; it's a need driven by workload expansion and modern, demanding applications.

This was last published in July 2018

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What is likely to push your organization to move to a 32 Gbps Fibre Channel SAN?