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The slow move toward faster Fibre

Hungry for faster Fibre Channel? Four Gbps will have to hold you for now.

At issue: Hungry for faster Fibre Channel? Four Gbps will have to hold you for now.

Fibre Channel vendors have been talking up a move to 4 Gbps, with possibilities of 8 Gbps or 10 Gbps shimmering on the horizon, but some analysts remain skeptical.

At a recent 4 Gbps plugfest conducted at University of New Hampshire InterOperability Laboratory, Engenio Information Technologies announced its native 4 Gbps disk array technology as the industry's first to be tested for compliance with the latest Fibre Channel Industry Association 4 Gbps protocol. The array has also been tested for compatibility with current 2 Gbps and legacy 1 Gbps devices, according to the vendor, in order to ensure full backward compatibility.

Looking forward, the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) has announced ratification of an 8 Gbps Fibre Channel roadmap designed to take it from an "inside-the-box" storage device interconnect into switched SAN fabrics.

Four Gbps is now starting to show up in subsystems, says Steve Duplessie, principal analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, Milford, Mass. "I expect to see Engenio announce 4 Gbps throughout their product line as soon as this quarter," he says.

Duplessie points out that "QLogic has had 4 Gbit HBAs for a while, and now all the switch guys are publicly on board."

On the other hand, Duplessie says "10 Gbps is a long way away" for most of the industry and "8 Gbps will most likely never happen," because 10 Gbps is in the works.

Data Mobility Group analyst John Webster says the adoption of 4 Gbps will hinge on price versus performance. If the industry prices it aggressively, it may begin to attract buyers. As for even faster Fibre Channel, Webster sees 10 Gbps, when it becomes available, as primarily a "backbone enabler."

While vendors like McData have already begun to dangle the potential of 10 Gbps in front of buyers of director class switches, Webster says, "The message I'm getting from industry is that it's probably going to be most effectively used by the largest of the large enterprises." As with 4 Gbps, adoption of 10 Gbps is purely a price/performance issue and, admits Webster, it may be a case of the industry actually getting ahead of the real needs of most of its customers.

On the other hand, Webster is bullish on 10 Gbps Ethernet. "I believe there is a feeling among at least some CIOs that they simply don't understand why they are supporting two networks -- one for storage and one for the rest of IT," he says. And, as they look at the possibility of building out their IP networks with 10 Gbps, "iSCSI becomes a potentially disruptive technology."

"Even if it doesn't have all the functionality of Fibre Channel, with 10 Gbps Ethernet people could decide that iSCSI is a good enough for them," he adds.

For more information:

Expert predictions 2005: Storage interface enhancements are on the way

Tip: How to decide between Fibre and iSCSI SANs

Tip: iSCSI -- Are we there yet?

About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, Mass.

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