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FICON promises speed boost for mainframe connections, backup

Find out what the benefits of FICON are.

In the early 1990s, IBM introduced ESCON, an optical fiber-based technology for connecting peripherals to mainframes. According to Chris Saul, product manager with IBM in San Jose, some regard it as the first SAN.

However, ESCON had gotten rather long in the tooth -- with a speed of just 17 MB/second. Late last year, IBM introduced FICON. FICON is much faster -- 100 MB/sec -- and uses standard Fibre Channel technology. It can also use the same switches as a regular SAN.

According to IBM, the most obvious benefits of FICON connectivity are increased per channel bandwidth and greater simplicity of channel fabric. This speed allows customers to collapse existing ESCON channels into FICON channels at a ratio of approximately 4:1, or in some cases more if ESCON channel utilization is relatively low. The company also claims greater simplicity of configuration because the FICON architecture allows more devices per channel (up to 16,384).

Saul, says one of the most significant user benefits is that backup and recovery involving tape can now be done in about half the time.

Mike Kahn, analyst at Clipper Group, Needham, Mass., agrees FICON is a clear speed improvement. He also sees benefits in consolidating equipment.

Although FICON is also compatible with the open systems world, Kahn says he is doubtful many enterprises will take advantage of the capability. "The market consists of fairly traditional companies and they may see value in having separate equipment for their other systems," he said.

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