Oct 22 2009

8Gbps Switches Take On the Big Jobs

Fast Fibre Channel switches deliver large pipes for virtualized SAN environments.

School districts seeking oomph for their storage area networks should consider 8 gigabit-per-second Fibre Channel.

Fibre Channel remains the gold standard for SANs, thanks to its reliability and fault tolerance. Consolidation, virtualization, blade servers and multicore CPUs are all driving demand for the 8Gbps version of the technology, notes Tom Hammond-Doel, vice chairman of the Fibre Channel Industry Association.

For example, if a data center consolidates 20 servers, it boosts the need for aggregate bandwidth and input/output operations per second (IOPS). “Let's say we put eight virtual machines on one physical machine. With 8G Fibre Channel, each has essentially a 1Gbps pipe to the outside world,” Hammond-Doel says. “We're finding that 8Gbps Fibre Channel is a perfect play into the virtualization market.”

Late last year, 8Gbps switches arrived on the scene from manufacturers such as Brocade, Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard and QLogic; Brocade, Emulex and QLogic offer 8Gbps host bus adapters (HBAs).

Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst for StorageIO and author of The Green and Virtual Data Center, says early deployments can be found in larger data centers and large-scale computing environments.

Not all organizations need the speed of 8Gbps Fibre Channel yet. But video-streaming applications such as surveillance and video editing can benefit, as can environments in need of overhead capacity, says Richard Rose, product manager for Cisco's Data Center Switching Technology Group.

Plus, there's a piece missing for many data centers, Rose says: 8Gbps Fibre Channel disk and tape arrays. “As soon as there are 8Gbps targets, backups will benefit,” he says.

He recommends planning for the future by choosing a Fibre Channel switch that's 8Gbps-capable, then picking and choosing a mix of pluggable optics. 8Gbps optics currently are more expensive than 4Gbps. “You're paying a 20 to 30 percent premium at a solution level,” he says.

With time, though, the price premium will drop. Schulz notes Hewlett-Packard offers a four-server, 8Gbps SAN starter kit for around $8,000, which is less expensive per port than 10Gbps Ethernet.

Schulz expects that organizations will start jumping on 8Gbps Fibre Channel this year, with the big push happening in 2010 and 2011. After that, “in three or four years, 16Gbps Fibre Channel may be out by then, or users may make the transition to Fibre over Ethernet,” he says.