Fibre Channel Group Enhances Spec

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When customers invest in storage infrastructure, they avoid massive upgrades because of the associated costs of replacing legacy equipment with new gear.

That's why two standards organizations Monday voted to extend the fibre channel roadmap to deliver fibre channel storage at 8 gigabits per second (Gbps) from a storage device interconnect into switched storage area network fabrics.

The Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) and FCIA-J, its Japanese affiliate, settled on 8 Gbps to help customers preserve their 2Gbps fibre channel (2GFC) and 4Gbps fibre channel (4GFC) infrastructure.

While many vendors also provide 10GFC products, they are not backward-compatible like 8GFC products will be.

This will provide a speedier, attractive alternative for customers desiring faster results than the 2GFC or 4GFC can deliver, according to Skip Jones, who doubles as chairman of the FCIA and director of planning and technology for QLogic .

Jones also said 10GFC products tend to be expensive, noting that the addition of 8GFC is geared to prevent industry fragmentation by providing a clear and concise roadmap for future fibre channel migration.

"10[GFC] is shipping for particular applications right now," Jones explained. "But it's real expensive stuff for Ethernet, fibre channel or any two cans and a string. We [at QLogic] ship 10 for a switch-to-switch application on our stackable 5200 switches."

While some experts in the storage field have sung the praises of iSCSI as an easier, more cost-effective answer to lightweight storage needs, fibre channel remains the dominant approach for most medium- to large-sized enterprises.

By boosting the speed of interconnects, the groups hope to make fibre channel all the more appealing to customers who rely on a lot of storage infrastructure to house their numerous data files and retrieve them efficiently.

For example, IBM , EMC , HP and Hitachi Data Systems all make competing fibre channel products, which are generally the bread-and-butter of their portfolios.

"With 8GFC on the roadmap, fibre channel's future is ensured by meeting future performance demands while preserving the current and ongoing investments that users make in the technology," Jones said. "Our roadmap enables suppliers and users to plan future products and architectures that complement the proven track record of fibre channel applications."

Jones said most vendors are planning on introducing new 4GFC products this year. With the expanded roadmap, customers can plan a smooth migration to higher speed products without worrying about their existing fibre channel investments.

8GFC products will also feature "auto-negotiation" to automatically sense and adapt to the data-rate capability of connected lower-speed fibre channel products without user intervention, Jones said. For example, when attaching to a 4GFC product, an 8GFC product will automatically run at 4GFC.

Xyratex, QLogic, PMC-Sierra, McDATA , LSI Logic , I-TECH, Finisar, Emulex, Cisco , Brocade Communications Systems , Broadcom and Agilent are all supporting the FCIA's enhanced roadmap.


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