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Inrange extends Fibre Channel for storage WANs

SAN FRANCISCO -- High-end Fibre Channel switch maker Inrange Technologies has launched a new device for extending storage area networks (SANs) over long distances. The IN-VSN Virtual Link Fibre Channel Extender gets around the distance limitation of Fibre Channel so that traffic can be hosted over asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), and soon Gigabit Ethernet wide area networks (WANs), for applications such as remote backup, disk mirroring and the population of data warehouses.

"SAN users are seeing the same thing that LAN users did in the 1980s," says Inrange's executive VP and chief technology officer, Charles Foley. "They're popping up everywhere in discrete islands." Users want to connect them together into a single, manageable entity, he says, but currently need to use their existing legacy networks to do so.

EMC has been offering customers the option of running its SRDF replication and remote data software over WANs for the last few years, and has worked with both Inrange and its rival Computer Network Technology to link its ESCON channel devices over ATM, IP and other networks. It extended its deal with CNT to Fibre Channel devices earlier this month.

Like CNT, Inrange is currently using 'tunneling' techniques to host Fibre Channel traffic on top of ATM or IP. Fibre Channel traffic is broken up into frames, sent over the network and reassembled at the other end. Although it still operates at wire speeds, Foley says that in the future, probably early next year, the market will shift to "true protocol conversion" techniques, initially focused around the iSCSI storage-over-IP standardization efforts.

The Gigabit Ethernet release will follow at the end of the second quarter. Penetration of Gigabit Ethernet is still quite low, with only 12% of all businesses currently using the technology, according to Cahners In-Stat. "It's still on its ramp-up," says Foley. Both Inrange and CNT have been working on storage over WAN for the last decade, but Foley characterizes the more recent developments around IP networks as "the next wave."

In its initial version, the VL/9000 supports Unix and NT server environments for full gigabit per second Fibre Channel and Ultra 2 SCSI networking at distances of up to 3,000 miles. Later this year, the company plans to introduce embedded technology within its FC/9000 'director-class' switch that supports director-to-director communication for linking SANs over standard IP networks.

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