Sonet SANs Surging, Suppliers Say

Sources laud emerging technique for streamlining FC on Sonet/SDH networks

February 28, 2004

4 Min Read
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Service providers need better ways to move Fibre Channel traffic over Sonet/SDH networks, according to equipment suppliers. By the end of this year, a number of them hope to finalize a standard to help -- even if it means taking some carriers by surprise.

Enter Fibre Channel Backbone - Generation 3 (FC-BB-3), a proposal for mapping Fibre Channel traffic to Sonet/SDH traffic using Generic Framing Procedure (GFP). The emerging spec is the work of a group that's part of the T11 committee of the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS).

Do carriers want this help? Participants, including representatives from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD), Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN), Computer Network Technology Corp. (CNT) (Nasdaq: CMNT), Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE: LU), McData Corp. (Nasdaq: MCDTA), and Nortel Networks Corp. (NYSE/Toronto: NT), insist their service-provider customers are clamoring to offer better Sonet-based SAN services.

Up to now, it's been possible to send Fibre Channel traffic over Sonet/SDH networks, but carriers have been limited in what they can do with it. With FC-BB-3, for instance, carriers will be able to offer customers a fraction of a Sonet pipe for Fibre Channel connectivity, instead of having to take up a whole connection. Work is also focused on providing point-to-multipoint links, instead of just the point-to-point connections possible now, and on providing carriers with an interface for management and configuration.

Note: FC-BB-3 isn't synonymous with GFP, though it's based on it. Vendors of telecom gear are in varying stages of offering GFP for storage networking (more on that in another story).Service providers appear to be leaving the work of developing protocols for more efficient Sonet/SDH-based SANs in the hands of their suppliers. According to Steve Wilson, the ad hoc chairman of the FC-BB-3 project and a principal engineer at Brocade, not a single carrier is presently involved in the work.

No worries, project participants say. "Carriers have their hands full right now. But somebody is going to realize at some point that this is a great opportunity to make money," says William Collette, CTO of CNT, which has been active in T11 FC Backbone projects from the start.

Collette says a lot of customers in metro areas realize they need to create synchronous mirroring and backup facilities that span not just nearby areas but the entire country. Recent power outages that affected New Jersey, for example, have been a wakeup call for New York City financial institutions. Carriers stand to make money from this fresh demand for more and better storage networking, especially if they can run it over their existing infrastructure -- such as Sonet.

"We're absolutely seeing more and more clients looking to Sonet to support some of their SAN applications," says Tom Williams, a solution architect with CentrePath Network Inc. (formerly known as GiantLoop), which specializes in offering outsourcing and consulting for customers with IT centers in metro areas. He says enterprises still face issues of latency in Sonet networks, but FC-BB-3 should help streamline performance a bit.

Industry sources say carriers are already mulling how they can offer services that combine Fibre Channel extension with Gigabit Ethernet -- a kind of universal metro services for all traffic types. That was the in part the reason Ciena bought Akara last year (see Ciena Plunks Down $45M for Akara and Cisco Joins Sonet SAN Club). While carriers may not be fully aware of what's happening with FC-BB-3, sources say they're nonetheless committed to the goal of better Sonet SANs."We have some major suppliers who see [the project] as an efficient way to provide standardized services for SAN and WAN," says Todd Bundy, director of business development for SANs at ADVA AG Optical Networking (Frankfurt: ADV).

ADVA wasn't at the last FC-BB-3 meeting, by the way. Neither was Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), for that matter, although a spokesman there says the omission was probably due to engineers' time limitations, rather than any intentional snub.

The FC-BB-3 participants say they expect ratification of a final draft by year's end.

Mary Jander, Site Editor, Byte and Switch

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