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If you think Fibre Channel SANs (storage area networks) are so costly and complex that they will eventually lose out to alternative technologies such as iSCSI and Infiniband -- well, you're not entirely wrong.

Fibre Channel SANs do present a steep degree of difficulty. But fortunately for the Fiber Channel industry, less-traditional Fibre Channel vendors such as Vixel and BlueArc are bringing much-needed simplicity to Fibre Channel SANs.

Case in point: a new family of switches from Vixel based on a technology with a promising name, InSpeed. On a single ASIC chip, InSpeed delivers what is essentially a 12-port Fibre Channel switch featuring both 1Gbps and 2Gbps full Fibre Channel connectivity and fabric service transparency. New SAN deployments can utilize InSpeed technology as the core fabric of an entry-level SAN installation.

Perhaps even more intriguing is InSpeed's ability to extend switching capabilities to collective storage devices such as RAID and JBOD (just a bunch of disks) disk arrays and even tape libraries.

Typically, a JBOD connects to the SAN through a Fibre Channel arbitrated loop, which is essentially a daisy-chain that limits the performance and diagnostics of the storage array. By contrast, an InSpeed embedded switch installed on the JBOD can independently address and monitor each disk device in the loop, which translates to improved system performance by as much as threefold, according to Vixel. InSpeed technology also gives the system the ability to detect each disk drive's error rate and traffic congestion symptoms.

The range of features associated with InSpeed has not only captured the attention and interest of manufacturers of disk and tape devices such as Quantum, but also major NAS (network attached storage) vendors such as Blue Arc and Network Appliance, which plan to include InSpeed technology in their products.

As InSpeed and technologies like it begin to penetrate the NAS market, the convergence of SAN and NAS will likely be accelerated, fostering even greater simplicity for storage administrators. The best example of this is already upon us in the form of BlueArc's Silicon Server, which joins Ethernet NAS technology with Fibre Channel SAN technology in a working marriage that yields an enormous degree of simplicity for users.

With an impressive, scaleable storage capacity of more than 250TB, BlueArc's Silicon Server is a 72-inch high model of the future of storage networks, where SAN and NAS models interact seamlessly. Adding InSpeed will have a major impact for both BlueArc and its customers alike.

For Fibre Channel vendors, InSpeed could represent much-needed relief from the threat of simpler, emerging technologies such as iSCSI and Infiniband. For customers, it could finally fulfill the promise of more affordable, easy-to-manage, high-performance Fibre Channel SANs.

What makes your SAN run better? E-mail us at dan_neel@infoworld.com and mario_apicella@infoworld.com.

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