Ever since Brocade started shipping 8 G Fibre Channel last May, pundits have been wondering when Cisco would follow suit. That speculation ended this week with the unveiling of new plug-in switch blades for the MDS9000 Director.
The company is offering up three flavors to the line: 24-port and 48-port modules, plus one with four 8G and 44 4G ports. Added bonuses include wire-speed encryption (although only within the MDS 9000 environment) and backward compatibility with 1, 2 and 4 Gb network equipment. The devices are supported by Cisco's updated operating system, the NX-OS, which in itself is being optimized for Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) to foster the company's drive for an Ethernet-based unified fabric.
The release heralds what is likely to be a strong push for 8G FC, presented largely as the means to ensure a respectable life for legacy equipment as virtualization and other technologies increase the data load.
But to ensure a robust path all the way to the server, a new generation of third-party 8G adapters is on the way. ATTO Technology has begun shipping a new quad-channel HBA, the Celerity FC-84EN, that the company says can achieve 6400 MBps in full duplex. The company coupled its Advanced Data Streaming (ADS) technology to a PCIe 2.0 interconnect to get 1600 MBps per port. The device is also available in single- and dual-port versions, and provides support for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X.
There's also likely to be a growing movement for long-haul 8G Fibre Channel solutions driven by advances in optical technology. Vitesse Semiconductor, which provides optical networking gear for both enterprise and carrier networks, just came out with a series of 10G transceivers designed to accommodate the strict power requirements of both 10 GbE and 8 G FC. The VSC7985 and VSC7986 are both built to SFP+ specifications for use in XFP and Xenpak modules, as well as dense parallel-optic line cards.
8 G Fibre Channel may still be far in the future for some, but by pushing the technology now, vendors are at least ensuring a robust upgrade path on the way to a unified network. Whether you choose to follow it is another matter entirely.