Hitachi Hurries 4ward

Vendor strikes a blow for 4-Gbit/s Fibre Channel, which could put 10-Gbit/s plans on hold

January 6, 2004

3 Min Read
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Hitachi Global Storage Technologies (NYSE: HIT; Paris: PHA) gave 4-Gbit/s Fibre Channel a shove toward the loading dock, as it announced today the completion of an arbitrated loop data transfer demonstration between integrated hard drive controllers. Hitachi hopes to start tests of 4-Gbit/s Fibre Channel with industry suppliers "immediately."

Hitachi said its design engineers demonstrated Fibre Channel arbitrated loop (FCAL) synchronization at 4 Gbit/s between two fully integrated Hitachi GST hard disk controllers. The demonstration included the ability to initiate and complete Fibre Channel LIP (Loop Initialization Procedure) as well as port and process logins. With the loop established, both commands and data were transferred at 4 Gbit/s, the vendor says (see Hitachi Demos 4-Gig FC).

The announcement is the latest milestone in momentum building behind 4-Gbit/s Fibre Channel as the next step from the current 2-Gbit/s speed -- meaning a possible dely in shipment of 10-Gbit/s wares.

History lesson: A year ago, it appeared that 10-Gbit/s would be the next Fibre Channel standard, thanks to components being developed for 10-Gbit/s Ethernet and OC192 Sonet. But an aggressive push led by QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC) helped the 4-Gbit/s SAN idea take hold. It has since gained popularity as an interim step because it is cheaper and compatible with current 2-Gbit/s equipment.

Hitachi is looking to start testing with other hardware vendors as soon as possible -- including host bus adapter (HBA) vendors QLogic, Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX)and LSI Logic Corp. (NYSE: LSI). Three major pieces for 4-gig SANs -- HBAs, switches and disks -- could be in place by the end of the year.Having a 4-gig target is a lynchpin in the acceptance of 4-gig. In order for 4-gig to take off, you’ve got to have devices that can do that,” says Steve Berg of Punk Ziegel & Co. “This will keep 4-gig momentum moving forward and help push 10-gig back.”

There have been other helpful pushes. The backers of 4-gig scored a victory in June when the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) approved the spec as a SAN fabric interconnect. (See FC Fires Up 4-Gig Fiesta, 4-Gig Fireworks, QLogic Starts 4-Gig Quest, and Fibre Channel SANs: 4G or Not 4G?.)

Fibre Channel switch-makers McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA) and Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD) had opposed 4-Gig support, but even McData jumped on the bandwagon in October by announcing its intention to support the spec, albeit in 2005 (see McData Signs On for 4-Gig SANs).

Supporters of 4-Gbit/s FC maintain that, while the technology doubles the performance of 2-Gbit/s gear, the cost remains the same. Ten-gig Fibre Channel equipment, in contrast, could cost up to five times more than current products, they assert. Also, 4-Gbit/s gear is backward compatible with lower-speed FC products, while 10-Gig is not. That means a shift to 10-Gbit/s would require replacing all existing Fibre Channel equipment.

“Ten-Gig was looking to be a little too expensive for system vendors,” says Dan Reno, Hitachi GST manager of product strategy.Not everyone is sold on these points. Many who favor IP-based SANs believe 10-Gbit/s rates will be key to speeding up storage networks and getting them to match emerging metro area services based on Ethernet.

— Dave Raffo, Senior Editor, Byte and Switch

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