4-Gig Fans Fawn

But not everyone's convinced they need more than 2-gig for Fibre Channel

October 27, 2005

4 Min Read
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- Storage Networking World -- Engenio, the only major vendor shipping 4-Gbit/s storage arrays, rounded up a handful of early adopters here today to discuss their implementations -- all based on a need for high performance.

Engenio has had a 4-Gbit/s array since February that it sells through OEM deals with IBM, Silicon Graphics, and Sun Microsystems. It's been joined by switch maker Brocade and HBA vendors Emulex and QLogic in peddling 4-Gbit/s early on.

But other leading storage vendors say 2-Gbit/s will suffice until all 4-Gbit/s components are available. Cisco just rolled out 4-Gbit/s switches this week and has yet to ship 4-Gbit/s directors. EMC hasn't announced 4-Gbit/s products. And no 4-Gbit/s hard drives are expected until next year.

The early 4-Gbit/s vendors say theres no reason not to move up now -- 4-Gbit/s gear is priced about the same as 2-Gbit/s and is backward compatible. Others say 4-Gbit/s is merely marketing hype until the full infrastructure is available.

Of course, Engenio packed today’s panel with users who feel a need for 4-Gbit/s gear. The customers were Pacific Title & Art Studio of Hollywood, Calif., St. Mary’s and All Angels School of Aliso Viejo, Calif., and Wichita Clinic in Wichita, Kansas.Larry Leopold, director of radiology at the clinic, says he installed an IBM DS4800 that is OEMed from Engenio to meet the needs of storing large digital patient records. He says the clinic is adding around 2 Tbytes of capacity a year.

The other two panelists are using 4-Gbit/s systems for streaming video. Pacific Title recently completed a transformation from analog film to digital film production that managed 330 Tbytes. St. Mary’s has a student video production program that requires it to manage 2 Tbytes of storage.

“When we went digital, that’s when Pandora’s box opened,” said Andy Tran, CTO at Pacific Title.

Tran says he has four 2-Gbit/s systems but recently installed three Silicon Graphics arrays based on Engenio controllers that he reserves for real-time playback applications.

“We see a need for 4-gig,” he said. “If we have a choice, we would go to 8-gig today." Tran said he upgraded with four Brocade 4-Gbit/s directors in the last nine months. “With two-gig, we would need too many ports and a lot of HBAs.”St. Mary’s senior executive Mike Magaldi sided with Tran, because he too found himself overloaded due to streaming video. Magaldi said he upgraded to his 4-Gbit/s SAN after the school implemented a video editing program. “We got ourselves in trouble here basically,” he said, grinning. “Students are rendering 40 to 50 movies simultaneously and they were crushing my LAN.”

Leopold didn’t have a 2-Gbit/s SAN. His hospital had been using a digital jukebox for patient records before installing his IBM DS4800. He wanted as much performance as possible to store and retrieve patient records. Wichita Clinic’s SAN is taxed because it can’t compress much of the patient records because it could result in lost data.

“We will keep everything on line forever, but we need something that will restore records back to us quickly when we need them,” he said.

Still, not everybody in the room was convinced of the immediate need to make a move. David Westfeld, storage team leader at Goodyear Tire & Rubber, who was in the audience, says his shop has five EMC Clariion 2-Gbit/s systems and gets sufficient performance from those and 2-Gbit/s Cisco directors. “We’re not really pushing our 2-gig SANs now,” he says. “We don’t stream video or anything like that. Our R&D team does a lot of CAD, but there’s no bottleneck going through the SAN.”

Some of the vendors who have been slow to embrace 4-Gbit/s gear have been saying the same thing. "Our position is 4-gig isn't all that valuable beause the bottlenecks are elsewhere," Cisco director of product management Paul Dul says. "But there are some who need that speed bump."— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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