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Fibre Channel Customers Must Consider FCoE Options

The faster 8-Gbps Fibre Channel offers companies a way to boost the speed of their storage networks. But IT managers are looking at Fibre Channel over Ethernet as a possible long-term alternative that can simplify their data centers.

Since its introduction more than two decades ago, Fibre Channel has become a popular option for connecting servers and storage systems in large data centers that need peak performance. With data volumes increasing, vendors have been working on a faster version -- 8-Gbps Fibre Channel -- of the popular connectivity option. As Fibre Channel customers examine these new products, they may need to take a step back and determine how much longer they want to stay with this option or begin making plans to migrate to an alternative.

Not surprisingly, large companies with high-end data storage requirements are the first group of customers moving to 8-Gbps Fibre Channel. Corporations are funneling more information into their virtualized servers. As a result, a growing volume of data is moving between them and their storage-area networks (SANs). "The introduction of technologies such as virtualization has meant that corporate networks are becoming stressed at certain places," says Erik Pounds, product marketing manager at Brocade.

The faster version of Fibre Channel offers twice as much throughput as the previous high mark, so companies have been turning to it. When examining different vendors' products, they should be aware that the new high-speed option comes with a few possible deployment challenges. One concern may be Fibre Channel's high price. Even simple items, such as host bus adapters, can cost a few thousand dollars, and the cost of larger switches and storage arrays is typically in the six figure range.

Compounding the issue is that Fibre Channel requires an end-to-end connection in order for companies to realize the extra speed. If one of the items is missing (say a server) 8-Gbps support, then the network automatically downgrades to 4-Gbps speed. Because multiple components are involved in upgrading from 4-Gbps to 8-Gbps, deployments typically cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and can often shoot past the $1 million mark. Vendors such as Cisco, EMC, Emulex and Qlogic offer a variety of 8-Gbps Fibre Channel products.

The availability of the needed elements is scattershot at the moment for a couple of reasons. Work on the high speed upgrade began in 2005 and products started to make their way from vendor labs to customer sites last year. Like previous efforts, the 8-Gbps work was technically challenging, but this time vendors' attention was diverted.

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