The Future of Fibre Channel Up for Discussion


I came across an interesting article over at The Register this week predicting the end of Fibre Channel as we know it.


As readers of this blog well know, there's no shortage of opinion as to the future of Fibre Channel. The iSCSI crowd will no doubt inform anyone who cares to ask how their technology will eat FC's lunch in a few years. And now that 6 Gbps SAS technology is on the doorstep, the challenges to Fibre Channel are increasing by the day.


What's different about The Register piece, penned by Chris Mellor, is that it lays out the most likely scenario in which Fibre Channel will cease to be a physical presence in the data center but will then live on as an element of the unified fabric.


The bad news is that much of the hardware that makes up the Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop (FCAL) within the storage array will probably fall by the wayside with the introduction of SAS backplanes. On the network, the placement of Fibre Channel over Ethernet will gradually transfer the physical network onto Ethernet devices, pushing native Fibre Channel HBAs, switches and directors into the dustbin. And should someone ever get the bright idea to extend SAS over the Ethernet, then that will eliminate the need for FCoE as well.


It's a good story, but does it hold water? The Fibre Channel community continues to play one trump card against all naysayers: that most FC users are quite happy with their storage performance and see rival schemes as cheaper but not as good. Over at Storagebod, a recent post even calls into question the supposed complexity of Fibre Channel, arguing that things like zoning and LUN masking are no more difficult than allocating IP addresses, particularly in large, complex environments.


Then there is the development of Fibre Channel hardware, still rolling along at a healthy clip. OnPath Technologies, for example, recently released the largest Fibre Channel switch on record, an 8G device that scales up to 1,536 ports. The UCS 2900 also features a patented backplane that can move data at 34 Tbps.


Chip-level developments are also moving ahead. At Storage Networking World, PMC-Sierra showed off a new ultra-fast Fibre Channel controller, the Tachyon QE8e+, capable of 1.6 million IOPS with bi-directional encryption/decryption and full duplex on all ports simultaneously.


Philosophers, and some physicists, say the past is fixed but the future is in flux. Fibre Channel has had a notable past, but there are certainly questions about its future. Still, if the Fibre Channel community is willing to stick by the technology, there will always be someone to provide it.