Fibre Channel Spec To Stretch SANs

A new standard could help service providers extend their storage area networks over IP, but its backers have a lot of work to do

May 1, 2000

2 Min Read
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Gadzoox Networks Inc. http://www.gadzoox.com said today it is working with Lucent Technologies Inc. http://www.lucent.com to develop a standard way for storage area networks (SANs) based on Fibre Channel links to run over IP connections. The standard is being developed under the auspices of the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) and should be ready late in 2000, the vendors say.

A spec like this would break new ground. Most SANs use 1-Gbit/s Fibre Channel as the basis for high-speed access to video libraries and other storage-intensive applications, as well as backup for server farms. But Fibre Channel standards only cover distances up to 30 meters over copper, half a kilometer over multimode fiber, and 10 kilometers over single-mode fiber. These limitations make it tough to offer SANs that run over long-haul connections--a hindrance to carriers who'd like to offer SAN services, especially on emerging fiber-based MANs. Adding IP capabilities to Fibre Channel would do away with those distance restrictions.

Still, there's quite a way to go before vendors and service providers can take advantage of the spec. For one thing, the draft posted on the IETF server by Gadzoox and Lucent technologists is filled with placeholders. Murali Rajagopal, the chair of the IETF working group overseeing the work, says that a more complete document will be published in mid-May.

Even when the placeholders are replaced, more questions remain. Routing high-speed SAN traffic over IP will no doubt present a performance problem for switches and routers. Also, the outline of Gadzoox and Lucent's draft calls for point-to-point connections only, in keeping with the current state of the art of Fibre Channel products. But in the future, service providers may well want a point-to-multipoint spec -- especially if they wish to deliver video services. Finally, it remains to be seen whether the IETF will in fact approve the draft. Until it does, today's announcement must remain little more than a placeholder itself.

by Mary Jander, senior editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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