Fibre Channel's Decline?

By Henry Newman

I recently read an article in The Register on declining Fibre Channel revenues. The volume of switch fibre channel ports, HBAs and connections has been steadily declining since the disk drive manufacturers introduced SAS. The first thing to go was the tens of thousands of disk connections. With SAS performance moving up the food chain as the baseline backend interconnect and with prices dropping fast to become more price competitive than fibre channel, why would anyone want to continue with fibre channel for new environments?

There are, of course, a few good reasons why sites still buy fibre channel. First, if the storage they want to buy has a fibre channel interface, they need to use fibre channel. Good examples here are enterprise tape drives, which use fibre channel interfaces, as do LTO.

Second, fibre channel supports longer distances than SAS. Though the distances drop with each performance increase, they are still longer distances than are supported by SAS.

Almost four years ago I speculated that 10 GbE Ethernet price drops would doom fibre channel. Well, the Ethernet vendors never got their stuff together, and FCoE did not take over the world. But appliances are replacing block storage, and that spells doom.

There are not many file systems that run on block storage that can scale to today’s requirements and run today’s applications. That was not true in the heyday of fibre channel. The appliance revolution is in full swing with big data appliances starting to appear on the horizon, and little by little fibre channel volume drops.

It was a good run compared with other technologies: FDDI, FW-SCSI, U-SCSI and a host of others. At one point fibre channel tried to challenge Ethernet with an IP stack and other features. But it was never cost effective, and the price performance did not make sense. It was a good run with a few more years left, but sadly fibre channel is on the down side of the hill.

This article was originally published on June 27, 2013