Data storage systems are like adrenaline junkies -- they have a never-ending thirst for faster speeds. Consequently, Fibre Channel, which has been a popular connectivity option in large enterprises, now finds itself making the transition from a top speed of 4 Gbit/s to 8 Gbit/s as the new high end. To date, the change had not encountered any technical hiccups, but has been moving slowly because some see a transition point on the horizon away from Fibre Channel to other high-speed networking options.
Data center equipment has been getting faster recently. Hardware advances, such as dual-core and quad-core systems, have increased servers' processing capacity. Advances such as server virtualization -- where a server is partitioned logically to emulate multiple virtual servers -- pushed the volume of data that a system could work with. Also, corporations have been consolidating the number of systems they use, so fewer boxes are responsible for processing more information.
These improvements have created a ripple effect in corporate networks. "As virtualization, and by extension cloud computing, gain momentum, wider pipes will be needed to keep enterprises from drowning in their own productivity," says Jeff Boles, senior analyst at research firm Taneja Group. As computers and storage systems become more powerful, they need faster interfaces to move information among server, switches and storage arrays.
Fibre Channel has been an attractive option for companies seeking high performance and low latency. "Companies have been working with Fibre Channels for many years, so they have developed a great deal of internal expertise about how to manage it," says Bob Laliberte, an analyst with research firm Enterprise Strategy Group.
The Fibre Channel Industry Association has been in charge of driving standards for higher speeds. In 2006, the group finished the 8-Gbit/s specification, which had to be backwardly compatibility with the last two top speeds: 4-Gbit/s and 2-Gbit/s systems. Vendors began rolling out the new high-speed systems in 2008. Brocade and Cisco have been at the forefront of delivering higher-speed switches, and Emulex, EMC, Hitachi, HP, and IBM have been some of the storage vendors promoting the shift.