Fibre Channel update: The move to 2Gbps

Special Report

Expect slow, but steady, end-user adoption as Fibre Channel SANs progress from 1Gbps to 2Gbps.


Click here to enlarge image

The second generation of Fibre Channel, which doubles the speed to 2Gbps, is all about satisfying the need for speed. It's about cutting down the time it takes to back up data or increasing throughput rates for streaming media content. But in the world of storage, end users need complete confidence that new technology works without glitches before putting it into full production.

In the last few months, end users have been waiting for vendors to put together all the 2Gbps components that would make up full, end-to-end storage area networks (SANs).

"It's just starting to come alive," says Skip Jones, a Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) board member and former chairman. (The FCIA is a 190-member organization comprising vendors, integrators, and end users. For more information, visit www.fibrechannel.org.) "It has taken a little longer to take hold because we're in a storage networking world, and all the different parts of the infrastructure have to migrate to the new technology. Now that we have the infrastructure, you'll see more adoption at the end-user level," adds Jones.

Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs) running at 2Gbps were available last year. This year, 2Gbps Fibre Channel switches started shipping from a few vendors, including Gadzoox, QLogic, and Vixel, and 2Gbps switches and directors from vendors such as Brocade, Inrange, and McData are due within the next couple of months.

"2Gbps products currently are being used in special applications such as streaming media," says James Opfer, a principal analyst with Gartner/Dataquest, in San Jose, CA. "As storage systems go to 2Gbps, there will be more significant adoption."

Right now, 2Gbps Fibre Channel disk arrays are scarce, but that should change by year-end. "Any new storage systems announced will be 2Gbps," predicts Opfer. "I don't expect a rollout of many more 1Gbps products."

Click here to enlarge image

It's too early for revenue projections for 2Gbps products, according to Opfer. However, the overall revenue figures for 1Gbps Fibre Channel products grew 157%, to $1.3 billion, in 2000 compared to 1999. Opfer says that in 2000, about 1.1 million Fibre Channel ports-including HBAs, switches, and directors-were shipped.

FCIA members expect some end users to have 2Gbps SANs deployed this fall. "End users may buy 2Gbps products, but it doesn't mean they will put them into full production immediately," says Marc Oswald, an FCIA board member. Oswald says backup and data-mirroring applications, which require large data-block transfers, will benefit significantly from 2Gbps Fibre Channel.

"In general, database backups are one of the biggest problems," Oswald explains. "One of the biggest benefits of moving to 2Gbps is you can cut your backup window in half."

Next: 10Gbps

While 2Gbps Fibre Channel starts to gain a foothold in the end-user community, standards committees are working on the next big jump in speed. In October 2000, the FCIA announced that the 10GFC working group completed the core content of its proposed 10GFC (10Gbps) standard, which started in August 1999 under the direction of the ANSI/NCITS T11 technical committee. (10GFC actually translates to a 12x raw baud rate increase over 1Gbps Fibre Channel.) The specifications are scheduled for completion in 2002.

The 10GFC core content leverages work done by the IEEE P802.3ae Task Force. More importantly, this next technological advance will share the same basic components as 10 Gigabit Ethernet, which means the technologies share the same cable plan, for less than 300m, so end users can build an infrastructure once and decide whether to run Fibre Channel or Ethernet. In fact, Fibre Channel, Ethernet, and InfiniBand will use the same 10Gbps physical layer technology, including cables, connectors, and optical transceivers.

Click here to enlarge image

According to Jones, "10Gbps Fibre Channel is basically in lock-step with 10Gbps Ethernet. They share the same basic components so you can wire your building once and then decide which you want to use. You can run Fibre Channel on the exact same physical interface."

The 10GFC standard will support MAN and WAN transports through direct support for native dark fiber (DWDM) and SONET/SDH, resulting in high-speed interconnection of SAN islands through MANs and WANs. This enables applications such as geographically distributed clusters for disaster tolerance and storage virtualization.


All Fibre Channel speed advances will be tested via the FCIA's SANmark Qualified Program, which was designed more than three years ago so that end users and OEMs could get an indication of how Fibre Channel products performed against "reasonable standards."

To get the SANmark stamp of approval, Fibre Channel products undergo a test designed by the FCIA in conjunction with the University of New Hampshire and the T11 standards body, which is responsible for all Fibre Channel standards. The SANmark goals are simple: to make sure Fibre Channel solutions are easy to install, manage, configure, diagnose, and troubleshoot. Another key goal is to eliminate, or at least reduce, interoperability problems.

"SANmark has grown to include the entire I/O system, applications, servers, virtualization, and APIs," says Dave Deming, former FCIA president. He says the program helps provide a framework that vendors can follow for more interoperability between Fibre Channel products. SANmark tests can be conducted in three ways: in-house by vendors, at an outside test facility, or through FCIA-sponsored "plugfests."

For example, last January, a switch interoperability demonstration was held at the opening of the SNIA technology center, in Colorado Springs, CO. Other interoperability demonstrations followed at trades shows such as CeBit and Storage Networking World.

End users will require testing on 2Gbps technology before deploying it in production environments. Some organizations have already deployed 2Gbps products, but in most cases it will take at least a few more months before the technology is used in production environments. FCIA members say similar interoperability demonstrations may take place for 2Gbps products to reduce the time it takes for OEMs and system integrators, as well as end users, to put together a SAN solution.

"A major benefit of SANmark is that it helps the industry, OEMs, and system integrators, in particular, to reduce the time it takes to qualify SAN configurations," Oswald says. "It significantly increases the likelihood that SAN products [from different vendors] are interoperable."

Sonia Lelii is a freelance writer in the Boston area and a former storage reporter for e-Week.

2Gbps adoption expected to be slow

With leading switch vendors yet to ship 2Gbps Fibre Channel products, adoption of 2Gbps storage area networks (SANs) is expected to be minimal this year. For example, International Data Corp., a market research firm in Framingham, MA, expects 2Gbps port shipments to account for less than 4% of all shipments (see chart).

Click here to enlarge image

IDC analysts attribute the slow adoption to a number of factors, including

  • 1Gbps Fibre Channel still offers ample bandwidth for most SAN adopters. "We believe that volume 2Gbps sales will be a result of OEMs simply shifting to product offerings with 2Gbps capabilities rather than customer demand," according to IDC's report,
  • 2Gbps products arrived late from market share leaders. Although Fibre Channel switch vendors such as Gadzoox, QLogic, and Vixel are shipping 2Gbps switches, Brocade and McData "are not expected to see end-user availability and OEM qualification of their 2Gbps products until late 2001," according to the IDC report.
  • The OEM qualification process for 2Gbps Fibre Channel is lengthy.
  • Most end users of Fibre Channel equipment value interoperability and stability over bandwidth.

Storage networking at Comdex

At the upcoming Comdex show (November 12-16 in Las Vegas, NV), networked storage will be the central theme of an exhibit sponsored by the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA).

For the first time, the FCIA has opened the exhibit to members of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) that are not FCIA member companies.

"There's a tremendous amount of confusion about what storage networking is, and you're better off having one big place to settle the questions about what works best," says Dal Allan, a service provider to the FCIA and president of ENDL Con sulting, in Saratoga, CA. "We want to give attendees a single place to shop."

In addition to Fibre Channel storage networking technologies, the exhibit will include demonstrations of IP storage technologies such as iSCSI. The 70x90-foot exhibit will be located in the North Hall, #L2029.

At press time, vendors that were planning to exhibit included the following:

Atto Technology
Amphenol Interconnect
Brocade Communications
CMD Technology
Chaparral Network Storage
Crossroads Systems
DataCore Software
Dot Hill Systems
Eurologic Systems
Fujitsu CPA
Gadzoox Networks
Hitachi America
ISI Interconnect Solutions
JMR Electronics
LSI Logic

MTI Technology
Seagate Technology
Sony Electronics
StorCase Technology
Stratos Lightwave
Vitesse Semiconductor

FCIA elects new board, officers

The Fibre Channel Industry Association recently elected a new board of directors and officers for the year 2001/2002.

Chairman: Michael Hoard, IBM
President: Ed von Adelung, Infinity I/O
Secretary/Treasurer: Tom Hammond-Doel, Vixel

Board of directors
Dave Allen, LSI Logic
Peter Dougherty, McData
Mark Hamel, Compaq
Skip Jones, QLogic
Gordy Lutz, Seagate
Marc Oswald, Brocade
Paul Talbut, FCIA-Europe
Yuichi Arai, FCIA-Japan
Chris Lyon, FCIA executive director

This article was originally published on September 01, 2001