The network matters for storage innovation

Fibre-channel and new-generation flash storage are a match made in heaven

Picture: Simon Cockell, Flickr

Picture: Simon Cockell, Flickr

Enterprise customers face real problems every day with their storage infrastructure. They need to keep their businesses up and running non-stop and meet demands from customers, while managing growth and protecting their digital assets from malicious breaches.

Fibre channel fabrics are the common thread that connect businesses to their most critical applications and data, driving the world’s economies with the most trusted and widely deployed network infrastructure for enterprise storage.

According to IDC, the vast majority of data centre storage capacity has been and continues to be fibre channel.

30 billion transactions go through fibre channel each day. Fifteen years’ worth of HD video can be moved in ten minutes with a single fabric that can scale to tens of thousands of devices in large, multi-petabyte mixed workload environments, as well as with integrated security and 99.9999 per cent uptime. It also offers an entry point for organisations that want to deploy shared, mixed workload storage environments and densely virtualised environments.

Meanwhile, the market for solid state drives, non-volatile memory, server-based flash cards and all-flash arrays, is growing tremendously. IDC expects the all-flash market in particular, will be a US$1.6 billion market in 2016, up from US$800 million in 2014.

With the cost-per-gigabyte for flash going down, businesses everywhere are eager to adopt flash in the compute and storage layer, for performance intensive workloads. When used in the right manner, flash also provides an economically sustainable approach for data centre build-outs.

In many cases, flash-based platforms can provide many times the performance of standard hard drive based platforms. This means that the burden of delivering this performance now shifts to the networks that connect the compute and storage tiers together. Networks now have to deliver flash-enabled storage access to servers in a scalable, consistent and latency-free manner.

Many businesses assume their existing network infrastructure will generally meet the demands placed by flash-based data access. However, the reality is that the performance demands of flash are a step-function higher than before. Legacy, lower-performance networks simply do not provide the scale and agility needed when flash is introduced at the storage or compute layer.

Network of choice

In spite of the advent of ethernet-based networks in recent years, many organisations and vendors rely on fibre channel as the network of choice when it comes to all-flash arrays or flash-enabled, high-performance storage access.

The 16 Gb/s link speed provided by fibre channel networking matches well with the requirements to support the growing wave of high-performance storage architectures. Backward compatibility with existing fibre channel networks means seamless upgrades. Deterministic performance means data is available when required for high performance applications.

Fibre channel easily scales for environments where data growth is unpredictable. Fibre channel storage area networks (SANs) have therefore enabled high density virtualisation at enterprise scale, by providing a storage foundation that delivers reliable and scalable high performance storage. Even today, the majority of VMs are deployed on a SAN-based storage infrastructure.

It’s been an integral part of every wave of storage innovation in the data centre: including shared storage and server virtualisation, as well as flash storage. Fibre channel has enabled shared storage for enterprises looking to maximise storage utilisation through the decoupling of storage from servers, and the elimination of storage silos.

What’s driving storage innovation?

The widespread adoption of flash storage is clearly accelerating the transformation of the data centre, particularly the unprecedented speed and rapidly increasing cost effectiveness of flash-based products. As companies redefine application performance with flash storage, they require networks that deliver low latency, high capacity bandwidth and reliability.

Today, 70-80 percent of flash array storage systems are deployed with fibre channel. But the network has to evolve to enable the next wave of storage innovation.

Why fibre channel is everywhere and staying there

Next-generation flash storage based on NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) will seamlessly integrate with fibre channel networks with the new generation of fibre channel technology: Gen 6.

Gen 6 fibre channel technology enables organisations to address performance, reliability and scalability requirements for hyper-scale virtualisation, new data centre architectures and next-generation storage technologies.

As organisations redesign their data centres with flash storage to optimise application performance, they require networks that deliver low latency, high capacity bandwidth and reliability.

Gen 6 fibre channel is especially significant for flash-based storage. Performance, availability and scalability are paramount for flash storage architectures. While fibre channel has been the network of choice for enterprise deployments due to its low latency and high availability characteristics, Gen 6 fibre channel extends these benefits for the next wave of storage innovation.

What about software-defined and cloud technologies positioned to reinvent storage?

These innovative technologies clearly have an important role in the data centre. Gen 6 fibre channel complements them all by providing the unmatched reliability, performance, scalability and security that are needed to deliver always-on business operations.

There’s a need for organisations to continuously look to innovate and transform with digitisation and virtualisation to achieve data ownership and mobility, as well as the ability to convert data into insights that can be quickly leveraged for competitive advantage.

As history has shown, fibre channel is the only infrastructure that can deliver these capabilities. That is why 96 per cent of banks, airlines and retailers rely on fibre channel for enterprise storage.

Phillip Coates is systems engineer manager for ANZ, Brocade

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