Feb 14, 2014


Skeptics have long claimed that Fibre Channel is on its way out of the data center - the reasons for their doomsday prediction is that Ethernet is a better specification and standard and that a data center does not need two of them. Arguably that is true to some extent - there is no denying that Ethernet is a much more versatile framing standard and has gained wide adoption as the data center fabric. However when extreme speed and extremely low latency is needed from the array to the host, most suppliers still point their buyers to Fibre Channel as the networking protocol of choice (Infiniband and Fibre Channel over Ethernet are used too but do not have as diverse a product set as that of Fibre Channel in the storage networking space). Enamored by the release of Gen5 specifications and the mission to maintain its dominance in the storage networking space, the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) has announced the Gen6. For those who do not know FCIA, it is the industry body chartered with marketing Fibre Channel to the market (Fibre Channel specifications are still governed by T11, the specifications body). FCIA is supported in large part by its founding members like Brocade, Emulex, Qlogic and of course Cisco. FCIA members also include all of the storage suppliers that manufacture Fibre Channel-based storage products. FCIA claims that the Gen6 Fibre Channel specification is the industry’s fastest industry standard networking protocol that enables storage area networks (SANs) of up to 128GFC. It also includes a variety of features that further improve network reliability, energy efficiency, and operational simplicity. Gen6 has been designed specifically for the performance, reliability and scalability requirements of next generation data center-wide storage networking standards which if the present direction is any indication, is going to be dominated by technologies like hyper-scale virtualization, Flash and NVM-based storage and applications demanding microsecond response times. From a speeds and feeds perspective, Gen6 doubles the 16GFC data throughput of 3,200 megabytes-per-second (MBps) to 32GFC, which enables 6,400 MBps full-duplex speeds. Gen6 also provides an option to quadruple 32GFC to 128GFC throughput, thereby achieving full-duplex speeds of 25,600 MBps. This technology is based upon the seamless inter- and backward-compatibility of Fibre Channel technology. In addition to faster speeds, key features of Gen6 Fibre Channel include: • Forward Error Correction (FEC): Improves the reliability of links through the automatic detection and recovery from bit errors that occur in high speed networks. FEC helps minimize or avoid data stream errors that can lead to application performance degradation or outages. • Energy Efficiency: Lower energy consumption is achieved by allowing the Fibre Channel optical connectors to operate in a stand-by mode (or nap) multiple times each second. • Backward Compatibility: 128GFC and 32GFC Fibre Channel supports complete and total backward compatibility to 16GFC and 8GFC networks. Ensuring complete investment protection, Gen6 automatically configures to the fastest supported speed between any two network points, and requiring zero user intervention. The announcement from FCIA was accompanied by Brocade making its own announcement voicing its own commitment to and sponsoring of the Fibre Channel ecosystem. It stated that work has begun on new Gen6 Fibre Channel SAN designs, and that it is partnering with HBA companies like Emulex and Qlogic to get Gen6 products shipping in 2016. FCIA just upped the ante on the ongoing debate on Fibre Channel vs. Ethernet.