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Early SAN products were based on quarter-speed Fibre Channel, providing 25 MBps throughput. Quarter-speed quickly gave way to full Gigabit (Gb) speed Fibre Channel, which after a few years has been supplemented by 2 Gigabit connections on HBAs, switches, and storage targets.
The Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) recently approved going forward with 4Gb development on Fibre Channel end systems and switches. Although not all Fibre Channel vendors are eager to jump into the 4 Gigabit initiative, there are valid technical reasons to double current transport speeds. Unlike 10Gb technology, 4Gb Fibre Channel would be backward compatible with the installed base of 1Gb and 2Gb SAN equipment. This would make it easier for customers to integrate high performance applications with the mainstream SANs they have already implemented.
In addition, doubling the speed of the current 2Gb standard presents far fewer challenges than 10Gb Fibre Channel would entail, enabling a much faster time to market. Finally, 4Gb interfaces on storage targets would enable a more streamlined aggregation of servers to storage ports.
Today, most storage applications do not fully utilize a 1 Gigabit connection at the server. A fatter pipe on the storage array, however, enables more servers to be configured per storage port. This simplifies connectivity while giving customers the flexibility to integrate both high and low performance storage applications on the same SAN infrastructure.
Until recently, Fibre Channel has successfully avoided the security conundrum. As more SANs appear throughout enterprise networks, however, SANs no longer enjoy the inherent security of the data center. Security concerns are thus a testimony to the success of Fibre Channel SANs and the spread of SAN technology into departments, remote branches, and other less secure environments.
To address these issues, Fibre Channel switch vendors are responding with authentication mechanisms borrowed from IP networking, so that only authorized end systems are allowed to connect into the SAN. In addition, vendors such as NeoScale are providing “bump-in-the-wire” products that intercept and encrypt Fibre Channel data as it is written to disk or tape.
Alleviating customer concerns over security for both data center and dispersed storage environments enables Fibre Channel to remove a barrier to adoption and achieve parity with the security mechanisms of mainstream IP networking.
Similar to security issues, Fibre Channel’s isolation in the data center has allowed it to avoid the mainstream culture of IP networking. Aside from out-of-band management, there has been little need for IP within SANs. IP networking, however, is the transport of choice for 99% of today’s enterprise data communications, and customers have long been seeking ways to leverage their network infrastructures for storage traffic.
As a result, Internet Fibre Channel Protocol (iFCP), Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP), and Internet SCSI (iSCSI) have emerged to bridge the gap between previously insular Fibre Channel and mainstream networking. The current trend in Fibre Channel SAN technology is the integration of multi-protocol support, both within Fibre Channel switches and within storage targets. Far from diluting the efficiencies of Fibre Channel, these new multi-protocol storage capabilities amplify the benefits of traditional SANs and enable maximum utilization of both Fibre Channel and IP assets.