According to Wikipedia, FICON (Fibre Connectivity) is the IBM proprietary name for the ANSI FC-SB-3 Single-Byte Command Code Sets-3 Mapping Protocol for Fibre Channel (FC) protocol. It is a FC layer 4 protocol used to map both IBM's antecedent (either ESCON or parallel) channel-to-control-unit cabling infrastructure and protocol onto standard FC services and infrastructure. The topology is fabric utilizing FC switches or directors. Valid rates include 1, 2, and 4 Gigabit data rates at distances up to 100 km.
On July 21, 2009, IBM announced that 8 Gigabit FICON would be available on z10 systems starting July 31. According to IBM, the newest generation of FICON features for the z10 EC and z10 BC servers, FICON Express8 10KM LX and FICON Express8 SX, are designed to support a link rate of 8 Gigabit per second with auto-negotiation to 2 or 4 Gigabit to support existing devices for added investment protection. FICON Express8 may also allow for the consolidation of existing FICON Express, FICON Express2, and FICON Express4 channels onto fewer FICON Express8 channels while maintaining and enhancing performance.
In the HBA segment of the market, Emulex is the exclusive provider of FICON HBAs to IBM. Therefore IBM's upgrade to FICON Express8 is neutral to their market opportunity.
In the switch segment of the market, Cisco has been actively supplying FICON connectivity to storage area networks since 2002. The company has recently sharpened its focus because product planners at Cisco correctly predicted that the director switch segment of the FICON market was about to become very dynamic. IBM is replacing hundreds of ESCON adapter slots per system with FICON slots in new z-Series systems. I expect this to result in significant upside potential for 8 Gigabit FICON director switch vendors. In addition, customers are pausing to re-evaluate their installed base of storage networking products and vendors - including an installed base of FICON directors dominated by Brocade with old McData and Inrange products. IT Brand Pulse estimates that Brocade owns 75% of the FICON Director installed base.
With customers buying $150 million of FICON switches and extension products every year, Cisco is targeting McData and Inrange customers in an effort to migrate them to MDS9000 Series directors with an impressive suite of new capabilities to better protect information, enhance resiliency, reduce cost and reduce the complexity of FICON-based storage area networks. If you want to learn more about the features and benefits of the Cisco enhancements, I recommend you read Mike Fratto's article at http://www.byteandswitch.com/storage/infrastructure/new-cisco-data-center-capabilities-help-to-secure-data-and-improve-disaster-recovery.php?type=article
Cisco has 150 million reasons to focus on the new 8 Gigabit FICON refresh. If that's not enough, I believe Cisco understands the strategic value of expanding their footprint in storage networking for mainframes that live in the largest data centers in the world.
Related Links: http://www.cisco.com/en/US/prod/collateral/ps4159/ficon.html