Double-speed Fibre Channel boxes on the way

IT managers this summer will gain access to Fibre Channel switches and routers that are twice as fast as existing models.

The 2G bit/sec Fibre Channel devices are designed to add speed to storage-area networks (SAN) struggling to handle streaming video, prepress production and other heavy-duty applications.

Market leaders such as Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and Gadzoox Networks Inc. will be among the companies rolling out these boxes, which will aggregate traffic from 1G bit/sec Fibre Channel switches and routers, as well as connect directly to servers, tape drives and storage arrays. Fibre Channel host bus adapters for connecting servers into SANs are already available with 2G bit/sec support.

The new boxes will be backward-compatible with 1G bit/sec Fibre Channel offerings, an issue analysts say may have delayed products from getting to market sooner. Some vendors promised 2G bit/sec switches and routers by the end of last year, says Arun Taneja, an analyst with Enterprise Storage Group.

"Like most Fibre Channel initiatives, it is late," he says.

While the 2G bit/sec boxes will have their appeal, Taneja doesn't expect the faster devices to win over companies that have not already bought into Fibre Channel.

Market research firm IDC estimates that the Fibre Channel equipment market will nearly quintuple by 2003, increasing to US$4.83 billion from $1 billion last year.

Among those contributing to the market's growth will be Tom Kessler, assistant manager of production services for StepStar Networks.

"When you are pushing live video into a storage system, you need technology that can take very long, very large data-streams as fast as they can be delivered," says Kessler, whose company supplies live video to schools and prisons across Washington state. "Fibre Channel is the only way we can go to a large storage system and maintain the data flow rate we are looking for."

The 2G bit/sec devices are expected to cost less than twice as much as the 1G bit/sec variety, though pricing specifics are not yet available. The per-port price of a 1G bit/sec Fibre Channel switch typically runs about US$2,300.

Few details are available about upcoming 2G bit/sec Fibre Channel products, other than these tidbits:

- Qlogic Corp.'s 16-port SANbox, a full-fabric switch, will be able to sense the speed of devices attached to it and be configured manually. The 1.75-inch-high offering is scheduled to ship in June.

- Vixel Corp. will deliver two 1.75-inch-high devices in late June that will come in eight- and 16-port versions and feature autosensing.

- Brocade will ship two switches during the summer.

- Gadzoox will ship as-yet-unnamed switches for Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop and switched-fabric environments in midsummer designed for data-intensive online transaction processing and rich media applications.

While the 2G bit/sex Fibre Channel market hasn't even had a chance to heat up, work on a 10G bit/sec Fibre Channel specification is progressing.

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