Fibre Channel in the Near- and Long-Term

Arthur Cole

The death of Fibre Channel has been a perennial prediction in networking circles ever since the first bit of storage data traversed the Ethernet.

So I did a bit of an eye-roll when I saw yet another headline predicting the protocol's imminent demise at the hands of 10 GbE. But as I waded into the report from eetime's Rick Merritt, I started to think that maybe there is something to it this time. First off, the headline is a bit misleading in that it gives the impression that Fibre Channel's number will be up in 2014. But as the article clearly states, the report from analyst firm Lightcounting says FC shipments will peak in 2013, after which there will be a slow, steady decline that will take years to play out. So please don't get the idea that anyone left sitting around with native FC in their plant after 2014 will be holding a one-way ticket to obsolescence.

And the simple fact is that there is a lot to look forward to in Fibre Channel, particularly as it transitions into converged I/O infrastructures. QLogic, for example, recently updated its Adaptive Convergence platform with new devices like the new FlexSuite adapter, which offers a single-chip solution for FC HBA and Converged Network Adapter (CNA) functions. As well, there is the new UA5900 Universal Access Point switch, which combines FC, FCoE and Ethernet LAN switching in a single unit that can be deployed on either the server or storage rack.

As well, Gennum Corp., just came out with a 16G FC chipset featuring a dual-clock and data recovery (CDR) transceiver module backed by a VCSEL driver and limiting amplifier to strengthen signal integrity. It also contains a rate-selectable transimpedance amplifier that lowers power consumption across bandwidths ranging from 4 to 14 Gbps.

Nonetheless, the movement toward a fully converged network faces some significant headwinds, according to Network World's Jim Duffy. He's identified six major hurdles to a unified I/O infrastructure, including the reluctance on the part of enterprises to shed trusted technologies for something new, questions surround operations and manageability and a perceived lack of benefits beyond the server and access switch. Add these anxieties to those surrounding virtualization and the cloud, it's small wonder that many organizations simply want to slow things down a bit.

Caution in the face of uncertainty is an admirable trait, but care should be taken that it does not lead to paralysis. It is undeniable that the next decade will produce the most significant transformation of IT infrastructure since the first wire was run from workstation to storage unit. Fibre Channel may or may not survive this transition as far as new deployments go, but the installed base will certainly be around for some time.

In networking and just about everything else, the delicate dance for CIOs will be to lean forward as much as possible without falling off a cliff.

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