By Dave Simpson
Last year, a number of factors-including Y2K concerns and lack of interoperability between Fibre Channel components- hobbled end-user adoption of storage area networks (SANs). But, with Y2K a thing of the past and interoperability problems diminishing (see this month's Special Report), end users are now ready to take SANs seriously.
That's one conclusion that can be drawn from a recently released report by Inter-national Data Corp. (www.idc.com), which predicts that shipments of Fibre Channel hubs and switches will surge at a 91.9% compound annual growth rate through 2003. Factory revenue from these devices is expected to soar from $236 million in 1999 to more than $3 billion in 2003.
In terms of ports shipped, Fibre Channel fabric switches are expected to account for an increasingly large share of the total market.
IDC segments the market into five product categories: entry hubs, managed hubs, loop switches, fabric switches, and director switches (see sidebar for definitions). Of those, the fastest-growing category is director switches (128.6% CAGR), which differ from other switches primarily in their fault-tolerant features. McData is the leader in the director switch class, but Inrange and Ancor Communications (which resells Inrange's director switches) have more recently entered this market. In terms of revenues, director switches are expected to lead all other categories next year.
Here are highlights from the IDC report:
- Port shipments of Fibre Channel hubs and switches grew 50% per quarter last year, a rate that IDC expects to decline over the course of this year. Unit shipments of hubs and switches are expected to grow 10-fold from 1999 to 2003, going from 0.5 million to more than five million units shipped.
- Loop topologies (entry and managed hubs, and loop switches) are expected to decline in popularity as fabric topologies begin to dominate IT spending, capturing 90% of the market by 2003. Last year, fabric switches accounted for 23.2% of total shipments, but they're expected to account for more than 50% in 2003. Brocade Communications leads the fabric switch market as well as the total hub and switch market, based on revenues. In unit shipments, Vixel leads the overall market, followed by Gadzoox, Brocade, Emulex, Ancor, McData, and StorageTek.
- In good news for IT managers that have shied away from SANs due to high costs, prices of Fibre Channel loop switches dropped 28% last year, and prices of fabric switches plummeted 43%.
- The market for standalone hubs-particularly unmanaged hubs-is expected to cool off, in part because storage subsystem suppliers are expected to embed hub technology in RAID and JBOD disk arrays and in part due to increased demand for switches.
- IDC estimates that approximately $1.5 billion of storage arrays were installed in Fibre Channel SAN environments last year.
- The research firm expects Fibre Channel to dominate server-storage interconnects through 2003. However, the firm notes that switched Gigabit Ethernet and InfiniBand will provide competition in that time frame.
IDC defines hub, switch product categories
- Entry hubs provide Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loops with the capability of adding or deleting attached devices without interruption of the loop. Entry hubs are not visible to management software.
- Managed hubs provide the interconnect capability of entry hubs. In addition, managed hubs provide various data to management software. Both in-band and out-of-band communications paths may be provided.
- Loop switches do not provide node scalability, but require minimal integration software. Loop switches support NL_Port Fibre Channel protocols. Lower per-port prices also differentiate loop switches from fabric switches.
- Fabric switches provide node and bandwidth scalability, and generally employ non-blocking designs. Fabric switches implement F_Port Fibre Channel protocols. A minimum requirement to be considered a fabric switch is fabric services. Cascading capability may be an upgrade option. High availability is achieved through multiple connections and paths through the Fibre Channel fabric.
- Director (or enterprise) switches implement fabric topology F_Port in a highly redundant architecture. A director switch is distinguished from a fabric switch by component redundancy, and by non-disruptive operation.