Fibre Channel adoption picks up steam
According to a number of industry forecasts, Fibre Channel implementation will remain strong and steady through the year and will experience a significant jump in 1999, as compatibility and interoperability issues are addressed and as leading vendors such as Compaq and EMC begin to incorporate the technology into their product lines. In fact, the worldwide market for RAID subsystems with Fibre Channel host connections, reports Dataquest, a market research firm in San Jose, CA, is expected to increase from $884 million in 1998 to $4.5 billion in 1999.
These numbers indicate a rapid explosion in Fibre Channel interest, as users begin to take advantage of the interconnect`s high-speed I/O, longer transmission distances, and scalable architecture. But even ardent Fibre Channel supporters acknowledge that overcoming incompatibility and non-interoperability issues is the key to full implementation. "Incompatibility is the issue. If Fibre Channel is going to be successful, it needs to be open and interoperable," says John McIntosh, president of Strategic Storage Marketing, a consulting firm in Boulder, CO. "So far, that hasn`t been demonstrated, but I think vendors are finally realizing this and are doing something about it."
Ed Frymoyer, president of emf Associates, a market research and consulting firm in Half Moon Bay, CA, agrees that overcoming incompatibility is important, but he believes the Fibre Channel community is already working hard to solve problems. "Vendors have to work out interoperability issues because they are probably the biggest things that have hurt the industry," says Frymoyer. "But the vendors are being cooperative, and when I look at other technologies that have come along, I`ve seen similar issues or worse. Considering how complex Fibre Channel is, I think they`ve done an extraordinarily good job."
According to Tom Lahive, senior storage analyst at Dataquest, ease of installation is another key issue that will contribute to Fibre Channel`s evolution from a niche product to a mainstream technology. Most observers anticipate that compatibility among products will soon facilitate installation issues, which in turn will drive prices down. Lahive`s research shows Fibre Channel`s momentum picking up significantly in 1999.
Lahive also foresees an improvement in switches in 1999. "Fibre Channel switches will adopt more intelligence and management capabilities, which will spike demand," says Lahive. "The overall switch and hub market will have a conservative adoption rate for the next year because Fibre Channel is a new network infrastructure, and all revolutionary technology takes more time to implement than vendors would expect." And more disk-drive manufactures are expected to start manufacturing Fibre Channel products. Seagate was the first to enter the Fibre Channel disk-drive market, but analysts expect IBM, Fujitsu, and Western Digital to begin manufacturing Fibre Channel drives this year.
Also look for Fibre Channel to permeate new markets. Finance and retail industries have already started to use Fibre Channel in data-mining applications, and video, oil and gas, and government markets are expected to begin using the technology in the next couple of years.