It’s a 4 Gbps Fibre Channel World

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Will enterprise storage users be drawn to either 8 or 10 Gbps Fibre Channel? Not any time soon, according to a report released earlier this week by the Dell’Oro Group.

In its SAN 5-Year Forecast, the research firm reports that the majority of Fibre Channel switch and Host Bus Adapter sales will remain at 4 Gbps speeds beyond 2010. Overall, the Dell’Oro Group predicts that Fibre Channel switch and HBA sales will increase from $2.3 billion in 2005 to $3.5 billion in 2010

The company predicts that 8 Gbps Fibre Channel will not be able to offer a price advantage over 4 Gbps speeds in the next few years. For that reason, according to the report, 4 Gbps Fibre Channel will dominate the market beyond the next five years just as sales of 1 Gbps Fibre Channel dominated the market for approximately five years and 2 Gbps dominated for four years.

“In general, manufacturers invent and build higher speed solutions that offer customers a price advantage on a per gigabit of bandwidth,” said Tam Dell’Oro, founder and principal SAN analyst, in a statement.

“Until 8 Gbps Fibre Channel or 10 Gbps Ethernet can offer a price advantage over 4 Gbps, the latter will be the logical choice,” added Dell’Oro.

She added that 8 Gbps Fibre Channel will hit the same 15 meter distance limitation and laser jitter problems that Ethernet has at 10 Gbps speeds.

The five-year forecast points out that as data storage needs continue to grow due to factors such as disaster recovery planning and compliance issues, users will have several choices in terms of upgrading their SANs to the next highest speed. Those options include 8 Gbps Fibre Channel, 10 Gbps Ethernet and 10 Gbps iSCSI.

“As second-tier storage needs proliferate and users expand their SANs, they will likely choose the cheapest technology available,” the reports says. “The higher speeds of alternative technologies such Ethernet and iSCSI make these technologies very attractive. However, we think iSCSI in particular will have trouble competing with prices of Fibre Channel switches and host bus adapters, which have dropped to all-time lows.”

While iSCSI has generated a lot of industry buzz, Ethernet may have the best chance to challenge Fibre Channel, according to the report, because many enterprises already have Ethernet networks in place and are already familiar the technology. The company also notes that Ethernet and iSCSI tend to be less reliable than Fibre Channel because they do not pre-establish a connection before transmitting packets.

The key to whether or not Ethernet can compete with Fibre Channel for SAN applications lies in price per gigabit of bandwidth, according to The Dell ‘Oro Group.

The research firm currently estimates that a gigabit of bandwidth for a 4 Gbps Fibre Channel modular switch port is less half that of 10 Gbps modular Ethernet of fiber ($150 vs. $400 per gigabit of bandwidth). With those pricing dynamics, “it stands to reason that a rationale buyer would chose to run his or her SAN over Fibre Channel,” report said.

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Dan Muse is executive editor of’s Small Business Channel, EarthWeb’s Networking Channel and ServerWatch.

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