Fibre Channel will not die out as predicted

By Dave Bailey
02 Jul 2010 View Comments
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Fibre channel networks not being replaced any time soon in datacentres

Fibre Channel (FC) technology, predicted to die out a couple of years ago, will continue to grow past 2014 for carrier and datacentre networks, says Infonetics Research analyst Michael Howard.

Many enterprise and carrier datacentres have large amounts of FC installed at significant cost. FC is currently the main network technology for connecting servers to storage area networks (SANs) and other enterprise storage.

"Most of the big datacentres today are using FC, whether they're carriers or content delivery networks. I don't know any big datacentres that don't use FC," said Howard.

"In Q1 2010, sales of FC and of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) SAN switches were 24 per cent up on this quarter last year, unseasonably so, thanks mainly to Cisco," said Howard, adding that Brocade still had the largest share of the SAN switch market.

"With unprecedented amounts of data and video being created, firms will continue to invest in these switches, driving strong annual growth through to 2014, when the market will be a $6.5bn (£4.3bn) one," he said.

The technology originally expected to replace FC was 10 gigabit Ethernet, but another technology has since emerged - Fibre-Channel-over-Ethernet (FCoE) switch technology.

FCoE allows FC networks to run over a single Ethernet-based network so that firms don't have to replace FC. Although even this will involve both capital and operational costs.

The other problem is who would take charge of the new system. Ethernet LANs are controlled by network staff while SANs and servers are managed by IT staff.

"So who's going to be in charge of the new technology? Who's going to manage it and who's going to control it?" said Howard.

FC networks can perform at two, four, and 8Gbit/s, with a 16Gbit/s standard under consideration. Experts anticipate that the 16Gbit/s is due to be ratified at the end of this year by the ANSI T11 committee, with products likely in 2011.

"This means that people today can say, 'I'm not being forced to move to 10 gigabit Ethernet or FCoE today. I can delay that decision because 16Gbit/s FC is coming along'," explained Howard.

The recent ratification of the IEEE 802.3ba standard for 40Gbit/s and 100Gbit/s Ethernet systems [June 2010] is also putting pressure on firms thinking about migration from FC.

The next iteration of the FC standard will be 32Gbit/s, however "the consensus view at HP, IBM and Brocade is that there won't be a 32Gbit/s FC standard, and that everybody will be going to 40Gbit/s Ethernet," he said.

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