SSDs Encroaching on Fibre Channel's Turf

Arthur Cole

Fibre Channel is expected to live on in the enterprise, both as a native protocol and layered onto Ethernet, but the future of the big FC drive itself is starting to look doubtful.

At the moment, FC drives hold a valued place in the data center, combining high-end performance with low cost for workhorse storage needs. But that could be changing, according to analysts like David Hill at the Mesabi Group. As new generations of NAND technology increase density while holding the line on both capital and operating costs -- namely power consumption -- the Fibre Channel drive could wind up being a technology in search of a solution. As more and more high I/O applications switch to Flash and bulk storage migrates to even lower-cost SATA technology, Hill says the economics for FC drives will be harder to justify.

It seems clear that NAND will be the focus of most Flash development in the coming year. Companies like Samsung are already priming the market for new generations of storage, while Micron and Intel are telling OEMs to look out for a 2x-nm device within a few months. Such a device on a 32 nm process would significantly boost the performance benchmark for Flash technology and would go a long way toward furthering the SSD format as an enterprise solution.

At the same time, storage platform providers are jumping over each other to incorporate SSDs onto their management stacks. EMC recently unveiled its Fully Automated Storage Tiering (FAST) technology earlier this month for the Symmetrix V-Max, Clarrion CX4 and Celerra NS systems, which puts SSDs in the mix with SATA and FC tiers when it comes to moving data volumes to the appropriate storage level.

That move coincided with Symantec's decision to add SSD capability to the Veritas Storage Foundation, Cluster File System and Cluster Server platforms. Enterprises will be able to coordinate a range of functions, from thin provisioning to failover and recovery operations, in mixed HDD/SSD environments across multi-vendor installations.

Having been a technology writer for close to 20 years now, I view all proclamations of a technology's imminent demise with a healthy dose of skepticism. Traditional Fibre Channel drives will likely continue as an enterprise solution simply by virtue of the fact that FC networking still provides the most robust and reliable format for critical data.

But as SSDs gain in stature, becoming both cheaper and easier to incorporate into legacy environments, the pressure will be on to either meet the cost and performance challenges head-on or find a unique application set that does not lend itself to rival technologies.

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