Fibre Channel will come with 32-Gigabit, 128-Gigabit speeds in 2016

The Fibre Channel Industry Association announced the SAN technology's Gen 6 standard

Storage teams will be able to double the performance of their Fibre Channel infrastructure starting in 2016, while the real speed demons among them will have a chance to multiply it by eight times.

"Gen 6" Fibre Channel switches and adapters that can deliver 128Gbps (bits per second) should hit the market in 2016, the Fibre Channel Industry Association said on Tuesday. That same year, vendors will also offer Gen 6 products with 32Gbps, it said. Fibre Channel specifications are developed by a committee of ANSI (the American National Standards Institute) in cooperation with the industry group.

Late last year, the FCIA had said a 32Gbps Gen 6 standard would be finished early this year and a 128Gbps capability would follow. On Tuesday it predicted that gear supporting both speeds would be generally available in 2016. Brocade Communications Systems said Tuesday it will ship both speeds of Gen 6 in 2016. QLogic, another major Fibre Channel vendors, said it will offer 32Gbps products starting next year.

Fibre Channel has doubled in speed twice and reached 16Gbps in 2011. Enterprises will need new hardware to enjoy the higher speeds of Gen 6, but that equipment will be backward compatible with existing Fibre Channel gear.

Faster SANs (storage area networks) will help enterprises keep up with growing performance pressure from servers and storage arrays, said George Crump of research firm Storage Switzerland. Server virtualization keeps computing infrastructure constantly busy and demanding data, while SSDs (solid-state disks) are able to deliver that data more quickly. The network connections in between lag behind in some cases, he said.

To cut out network delays, some IT shops are putting flash right in servers, but that solution can get complicated and expensive at a large scale, Crump said. Gen 6 Fibre Channel will offer an alternative that lets them keep their traditional shared-storage architecture, he said.

"If you can share it, why wouldn't you? Because then you can use the resource more effectively," Crump said.

The new standard should also help to keep Fibre Channel competitive with alternatives such as Fibre Channel over Ethernet, which is designed to let enterprises use one infrastructure for both SAN and LAN. FCOE runs on Ethernet, which is already out in 40Gbps form and becoming available at 100Gbps. In a report on the SAN market in the third quarter of last year, research company Dell'Oro group said 40-Gigabit Ethernet would give FCOE a significant speed differential over 16Gbps Fibre Channel, driving Fibre Channel to step up its game with the Gen 6 speeds.

For many organizations, the choice whether to converge their networks will be a political one, with storage administrators preferring to keep the SAN separate, Crump said. He thinks a majority of enterprises that use Fibre Channel would prefer to stick with it.

Gen 6 networks will reach 128Gbps by combining four 32Gbps connections into what logically looks like one, FCIA president Mark Jones said. Those four links can take the form of separate wire strands in a copper cable or separate wavelengths of light in an optical fiber, he said.

The upcoming specification includes advancements for reliability and energy efficiency as well as speed, FCIA Chairman Skip Jones said. Gen 6 adds a standard form of forward error correction, which predicts transmit errors and corrects them without the need for time-consuming retransmission. For power saving, the standard includes a way for optical connectors to dim their lights when there's no data to transmit, then immediately come back to full strength, he said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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