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Betamax and VHS
At a recent conference, someone asked if iFCP might fade away, since despite being a more robust protocol for linking SANs, it is a kind of Betamax to the other vendors’ VHS solutions. The best technology, according to this particular iFUD, does not always win. This argument at least credits iFCP with being the optimum solution compared to FCIP tunneling, but also reveals ignorance of the history of video recording technology. Betamax did not fulfill the promise of its technological superiority because it was promoted as a proprietary architecture with premium profit margins. It failed to gain global dominance for the same reason that the IBM PC eventually succumbed to more open and inexpensive clones.
In the case of FCIP and iFCP, both are IETF-approved standards initiatives. Both are open protocols that any vendor can engineer product to. iFCP has significant advantages over FCIP tunneling, but also presents vendors with significant engineering challenges. At the same time, the fault isolation, SAN routing, and multi-point capabilities of iFCP have made a substantial impact on the market. Even vendors that are already committed to FCIP in their products are now declaring that they, too, will have some variant of iFCP-like SAN routing (e.g., Cisco VSAN routing and Brocade LSAN routing).
Considering the complexity of tacking different bits of code together (FCIP + proprietary frame tagging + proprietary network address translation for fault isolation) to achieve what iFCP already does in one standard protocol, it would have been much easier for FCIP proponents to adopt iFCP earlier on. In the current attempt to catch up on the feature/functionality front, however, FCIP is being bailing-wired to overcome the obvious deficiencies of simple tunneling.
In the end, this adds more expense, complexity, and code manipulation to FCIP products and validates the fact that iFCP was the proper solution for SAN extension to begin with. Given the fact that iFCP is both an open protocol and is now available at prices considerably below comparable FCIP solutions, it’s starting to look like the VHS winner after all.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
Although technologists are not immune to fanatical allegiances, it’s really marketing excess that is driving iFUD in the storage industry. Technology development, after all, occurs within the crucible of capitalist economics and is spurred by those whose central obsession is market share and accumulation of profits. To meet their own business objectives, customers should remember that storage technology is simply plumbing to support upper layer applications and that the noise coming from the bickering plumbers down below, however distracting, may just be the clanging of empty FUD after all.
Director, Solutions and Technologies, McDATA Corporation
Author: Designing Storage Area Networks, Second Edition (2003) (available at Amazon.com), IP SANs (2002) (also available at Amazon.com).