Fibre Channel switches: 2Gbps, more ports


Over the last two months, virtually all of the major Fibre Channel switch vendors made announcements concerning increasing performance to 2Gbps (200MBps) or increasing the number of ports on their devices.

Some of the 2Gbps switches are expected to begin rolling out this summer. Most Fibre Channel host bus adapter (HBA) vendors are already shipping 2Gbps devices, but analysts say that users have had little impetus to upgrade in the absence of 2Gbps fabric switches. In a connection between 1Gbps and 2Gbps devices, traffic will automatically fall back to 1Gbps.

A smattering of 2Gbps Fibre Channel disk array controllers are also expected to appear this summer. IBM, for example, will begin shipping a 2Gbps Fibre Channel JBOD disk subsystem-dubbed the ProFibre Storage Array DF4000J-this summer. Chaparral Network Storage is also shipping 2Gbps Fibre Channel RAID controllers.

Fibre Channel vendors are hoping that the 2x throughput improvement, lower pricing, and increased interoperability will spur end-user adoption of storage area networks (SANs). To date, only about 15% of U.S. companies have implemented a production SAN, according to a number of surveys.

"SAN adoption will go up as vendors address cost and interoperability issues," predicts Clark Foy, vice president of marketing at Gadzoox Networks. Switch vendors are addressing interoperability issues via compliance with the ANSI standard FC-SW-2 specification, which may be finalized as early as this summer. FC-SW-2 will include the Fabric Shortest Path First (FSPF) routing protocol, which allows switches to route data between each other; the FC-PI standard for the physical characteristics of 2Gbps links; and the FC-GS-3 standard for generic name and management services.

Gadzoox was first to detail its 2Gbps products. Company officials will not reveal specific pricing until the products ship "this summer," but they say that the 18-port Slingshot 4218 Fibre Channel switches will be priced at less than $1,000 per port.

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The Slingshot switch packs 18 full-duplex 2Gbps ports in a 1U form factor, which Gadzoox officials claim is the highest port density, enabling 72 ports in a 4U form factor (versus 32 ports in a 4U form factor with current 16-port switches). The switch is positioned as a departmental device for midrange fabric configurations, as opposed to director-class switches for high-end data-center environments and lower-end workgroup switches for loop configurations. Redundant power supplies are optional.

Compaq will OEM the Slingshot technology for entry-level SAN configuration. (Compaq also OEMs Fibre Channel switches from Brocade.)

Potential applications for 2Gbps Fibre Channel switches include

  • Inter-switch links for aggregation of 1Gbps devices;
  • High-performance clusters;
  • Rich media, such as HDTV (which requires 1.5Gbps); and
  • Trunk links between SAN "islands."

Vixel: 2Gbps this month


But Gadzoox will not enjoy a time-to-market advantage on the 2Gbps front. This month, rival Vixel began production shipments of 2Gbps Fibre Channel fabric switches. The company demonstrated the 9000 Series switches at last month's Networld+Interop show, in an HDTV video-streaming application. The 16-port 9300-HA (High Availability) lists for $22,700 and includes redundant power supplies and fans. The switches are also available in 8-port (Model 9100) and 16-port (Model 9200) versions without high-availability features such as redundant power and fans. Avid Technology is beta-testing Vixel's 2Gbps switches for use in its MediaNet video production and Trilligent streaming media servers.

The 9000 Series is based on a non-blocking architecture and can support up to 32 switches and seven loops in multi-layer mesh environments. The devices are compliant with the FC-SW-2 E port interoperability standard and support the FibreAlliance Management Information Bases (MIBs).

McData: 64-port director

At the high end of the Fibre Channel switch market, McData has begun shipments of its 64-port, single-stage "Galaxy-Class Director." (Directors differ from standard switches primarily in that they include a higher port count and fully redundant components, including hot-pluggable power supplies, fans, optics, processors, switching modules, and port modules.)

McData's ED-6064 has up to 3GBps bandwidth per path. OEMs include EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM. In addition to Fibre Channel, the ED-6064 supports IBM's FICON channel interface for mainframe connectivity. McData claims throughput of 53 million frames per second; 60 buffer credits per port; a fabric latency of less than two microseconds; and 99.999% availability.

Brocade 'pre-announcement'

In part to stave off McData's momentum in high-end switches, market leader Brocade recently "pre-announced" a 64/128-port director-class switch that the company hopes to ship in the fourth quarter.

Brocade's SilkWorm 12000 "Core Fabric Switch" will be available in 64-port or 128-port configurations in a 14U enclosure. Initial products will support 1Gbps or 2Gbps Fibre Channel, but Brocade officials say that the 12000 will eventually support other protocols via optional blades, including 10Gbps Fibre Channel, IP, iSCSI, FCIP, and InfiniBand. According to Jay Kidd, vice president of marketing at Brocade, iSCSI support is expected in mid-2002.

Brocade also announced enhancements to its Fabric OS distributed operating system, primarily in the security area.

Inrange/QLogic: 128 ports

While Brocade plans to ship a 128-port director-class switch in the fourth quarter, Inrange Technologies is already shipping a 128-port version of its IN-VSN FC/9000 Fibre Channel switch. (QLogic OEMs Inrange's high-end switches, which are also resold by vendors such as Hitachi Data Systems and IBM.) The director is also available in a 64-port model, and users of the company's existing 64-port switches can field-upgrade to the 128-port configuration.

Inrange also announced that, in conjunction with partner QLogic, it will introduce 2Gbps and 256-port director technologies by year-end. (Inrange currently OEMs QLogic's 8-, 16-, and 32-port edge switches and will OEM QLogic's announced 2Gbps SANbox2 line of switches.)

International Data Corp. predicts that sales of Fibre Channel fabric switches will surpass $1 billion in 2003.

This article was originally published on June 01, 2001