Despite being nearly 60 years old, Moore’s Law is still going strong. Nowhere is the rapid and relentless growth of information processing technology more evident than in today’s data centers, where the need for enhanced speed and performance has been met with the development of all-flash arrays.
These flash drives, or solid state discs (SSDs), arrived at the perfect moment for an industry desperately in need of improved efficiency, reliability and power consumption. With no moving parts, SSDs increase throughput, reduce latency and fragmentation, and are far more durable compared to traditional storage technology. They also use up less power and even make a lot less noise.
But to realize the full potential of all-flash storage in terms of capacity as well as low latency requires SAN technology that itself delivers in these areas. Fortunately, Gen 6, the latest generation of Fibre Channel, is designed specifically to address the performance, reliability and scalability requirements needed to realize the full advantages of SSD storage.
Fibre Channel has certainly come a long way since the completion of the standard in 1994. Purpose-built to meet the demands of enterprise data centers that require non-stop availability, Fibre Channel has doubled in speed every few years with a jump to 16Gbit/s in 2011. Gen 6 Fibre Channel technology arrived a year ago, providing data rates of 32Gbit/s.
Gen 6 offers other advantages too. While Fibre Channel has always delivered lower latency compared to Ethernet protocols, this latest version is even better than its predecessors. Gen 6 Fibre Channel provides an improvement in performance of as much as 70%.
Perhaps that’s why its popularity has grown quicker than that of previous upgrades. Many data centers have already made the leap to Gen 6 Fibre Channel in just twelve months since its launch. It would seem that even facilities that are yet to fill up their 16Gbit/s equipment are keen to harness the ultra-low end-to-end latency provided by Gen 6 Fibre Channel transport and a farm of flash drives.
Another recent advance has been the development of Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe), which removes so many of the limitations of SCSI, the protocol that has dominated the enterprise storage market for more than two decades. Architected from the ground up to take advantage of the unique properties of flash storage technology, NVMe dramatically increases the speed at which data can travel to and from a flash module. It also helps reduce footprint and offers tremendous scale.
Of course, for many businesses, the main issue with Fibre Channel is reach. With end users demanding access to applications at any time and from anywhere on the planet, being able to leverage the benefits of Fibre Channel over distance is key. Also for business continuity solutions to be effective, they need to extend well beyond the perimeter of potential disaster areas.
The good news is that Gen 6 Fibre Channel has proven to be effective over significant distances. Successful demonstrations conducted by Brocade and ADVA Optical Networking have shown that it can be used to transmit data at 32Gbit/s over networks stretching up to 100km.
This means that, as well as enabling many more enterprises to maximize the performance of flash-enhanced data storage, Gen 6 Fibre Channel is a critical breakthrough in terms of business continuity and disaster recovery strategies.
For all of these reasons, it’s clear that Fibre Channel will continue to dominate. As SSDs become cheaper and provide greater capacity, and as protocols that maximize their potential become more ubiquitous, Fibre Channel looks certain to retain its position as the number one choice for enterprise SANs.
About the Author
Uli Schlegel is ADVA Optical Networking’s technical expert for enterprise networks. He has over 17 years of experience in WDM technology and optical networking systems. He holds an engineering degree (Dipl.-Ing. Physikalische Technik) from the University of Applied Sciences (TFH) in Berlin, Germany.
Uli currently drives product development in the data center interconnect space. He mainly focuses on solutions for storage and server connectivity as well as encryption and security relevant topics.