Enhancements Spur Evolution of Fibre Channel SANs


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With over ten years of standards and product development behind it, Fibre Channel is now a mature and established technology for storage networking. Link layer protocols are efficient and stable; switches provide high performance and are scaling to higher port counts; and Fibre Channel arrays, tape subsystems, and host connections are offered by all the major storage suppliers.

Although iSCSI may eventually displace Fibre Channel connections for server attachment, Fibre Channel will not disappear overnight. If anything, iSCSI is being viewed more as a complementary solution for Fibre Channel SANs, since customers can now amortize the cost of their Fibre Channel storage investments over much larger populations of Wintel servers.

In addition, new developments in Fibre Channel offerings are enhancing the value of traditional SANs, both for enterprise networks and for the broader medium and small business market. Let's take a look at some of the most important developments on the Fibre Channel front.

Mid-Tier Solutions

To date, Fibre Channel SANs have enjoyed success primarily in large enterprise networks. The lack of market penetration of SANs to medium and small businesses has not been due to architectural issues, but rather primarily to the cost and complexity of adopting a new, relatively expensive technology. The recent introduction of SAN solutions aimed at medium and small businesses, however, is accelerating the adoption of SANs by a broader market and is bringing the benefits of SANs to more users.

Medium and small businesses, after all, face the same storage problems as their enterprise brethren. The steady accumulation of direct-attached storage inevitably results in excessive administrative overhead, complex and sometimes unworkable backup strategies, and an inability to provide high availability access to data. More affordable SAN solutions enable mid-tier companies to benefit from storage consolidation, centralized tape backup, and server clustering applications previously available only to enterprise budgets.

This technology tickle-down is being led by vendors such as Dell (through the EMC CLARiiON line) and HDS (through the 9500 modular storage arrays), which are packaging SAN solutions targeted to medium and smaller business budgets. Even high-end storage applications such as disaster recovery are coming to mid-tier customers as lower cost data replication and storage over IP products are introduced.

SAN costs for the mid-range market are also being contained by new Fibre Channel switches such as the McDATA Sphereon switches, which are based on a high port density ASIC, as well as low cost tape subsystems from vendors such as SpectraLogic. Collectively, these new mid-tier SAN solutions are expanding the installed base of Fibre Channel, even as new iSCSI products come to market.

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