SAN vendors joust over Fibre Channel future

SAN vendors joust over Fibre Channel future

"Fibre Channel is dead." That was the controversial conclusion of one participant in a heated debate about storage area networks (SANs) over Gigabit Ethernet held at the SAN 2000 conference recently in the US.

Network infrastructure and storage vendors 3Com, Hewlett-Packard, Adaptec, Qlogic, Gadzoox Networks, SAN Ltd, Network Appliance, Agilent Technologies and Genroco argued over new proposals to carry storage data over 10-Gigabit Ethernet, and what some see as a sooner-rather-than-later demise of Fibre Channel technology.

Four proposals touting storage over IP are currently being submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) for consideration as standards. Included are three that want to send block-mode storage data over 10-Gigabit Ethernet.

There's the SCSI over TCP/IP proposal from IBM and Cisco Systems, which is supported by HP.

There's also a draft specification from Adaptec that calls for a new transport protocol, EtherStorage, in which storage travels over existing Ethernet technology.

And there's SAN Ltd's proposal, the Service Specific Connection Oriented Protocol (SSCOP), to route storage data over IP using an International Telecommunication Union protocol that allows data to be retransmitted selectively if problems occur. SSCOP is a data link protocol used in ATM.

More immediate fix

The fourth proposal suggests using IP as a more immediate fix for routing data between geographically separated SANs. It includes work from Gadzoox and Lucent that proposes sticking a metropolitan area network (MAN) between SANs and routing data between them with devices such as Cisco's Metro 1500 dense wave division multiplexer.

While participants agreed that one specification would eventually prevail and become a standard in an IETF working group, tempers flared as vendors debated the merit of each technology. The panel, a mix of Fibre Channel manufacturers and 10-Gigabit Ethernet proponents, agreed in large part that users are feeling pain implementing Fibre Channel.

Vendors such as SAN Ltd, Gadzoox and Adaptec are going ahead with work on storage-over-IP products before a standard is adopted. They say that, however those implementations work, they will be software-upgradable when a standard appears.

By year-end, the IETF will have a working demonstration of a storage-over-IP standard.

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