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Gen 5 Fiber Channel - The Cornerstone of Resilient Data Center Storage Networks

March 11, 2014

Gen 5 Fiber Channel - The Cornerstone of Resilient Data Center Storage Networks

Higher throughput is important for keeping up with the many server and storage technology advancements, but the true value of Gen 5 Fiber Channel goes well beyond faster links. Through proper equipment vendor selection, it is possible to dramatically simplify Storage Area Network (SAN) deployment and management and drive down operational costs, achieve higher reliability, and utilize the latest innovative, breakthrough technologies.

Overview of Gen 5 Fiber Channel

Gen 5 Fiber Channel is the latest evolution in Storage Area Networks (SANs). Based on technology developed by the T11 technical committee that defines Fiber Channel interfaces, Gen 5 Fiber Channel doubles the data throughput of 8 Gbps links, from 800 Megabytes per second (MB/sec) to 1600 MB/sec with Gen 5 Fiber Channel.

Deployed in 90 percent of Fortune 1000 data centers, Fiber Channel (FC) is the de facto standard for storage networking in the data center. Gen 5 Fiber Channel is the proven, purpose-built network infrastructure for data center storage, delivering unmatched reliability, scalability, and 16 Gbps performance.

The Need for Gen 5 Fiber Channel

Emerging and evolving critical workloads, higher-density virtualization, and cloud-based architectures are continuing to push the limits of SAN infrastructure. New technologies such as Flash-based storage and new Gen 5 Fiber Channel storage arrays are shifting the focus from storage to interconnect. This trend is driving ever higher Input/Output (I/O) and bandwidth requirements, driving the need for higher speeds, as well as more reliable networks.

Multiple server and storage trends and technology advances are driving the need for Gen 5 Fiber Channel, including:

  • Increased number and size of applications
  • High-density server virtualization
  • Solid State Drives (SSDs) and Flash-based storage
  • New 16 Gbps disk arrays

Application Growth

The big growth in all computing environments is the increasing size and number of software applications. The digitization of information and growing use of rich media and interactive Web 2.0 applications drive greater storage capacity and bandwidth requirements. In addition, applications such as databases and other mission-critical applications are growing rapidly, yet continue to require non-stop availability. The storage network must be prepared to handle increased capacity, greater throughput, and higher levels of resiliency.

High-Density Server Virtualization

Server virtualization allows multiple applications to share a single physical server, increasing efficiency and driving up server utilization rates. Evolving critical workloads and Tier 1 applications are being hosted on Virtual Machines (VMs). VM densities are steadily increasing to 10, 20, or more VMs per physical server—all booting from the SAN and accessing SAN resources. The increased usage, criticality, and density of VMs drive demand for higher performance (bandwidth and I/O), as well as increased reliability and availability from the storage infrastructure. In highly virtualized environments, any congestion, poor I/O performance, or failures in the storage network impact a larger number of applications.

Solid State Drives

Flash-based storage and SSDs are driving incredible advances in storage, dramatically reducing the historical I/O performance gap between the server side (with multi-core processors and faster memory) and the storage side. SSD storage addresses both I/O and throughput bottlenecks, enabling faster block and file-based storage performance for high-density virtualized workloads and traditional mission-critical applications. Whether they are deployed as standalone SSD-based arrays or directly connected to the server CPU and memory bus, SSDs accelerate I/O performance, driving the need for higher I/O bandwidth performance and greater availability from the storage network.

Gen 5 Fiber Channel Storage Arrays

New 16 Gbps-capable Fiber Channel storage arrays from leading storage providers are becoming available. This requires that the network is not a bottleneck. Data center managers need to take a close look at their storage network infrastructure to determine whether it is capable of delivering the reliability, performance, and operational simplicity the new technology requires. If not, the bottleneck has simply moved and expected gains will not be realized.

These and other data center evolutions are driving the need for Gen 5 Fiber Channel infrastructures.

Gen 5 Fiber Channel - The Benefits of Higher Speed

By doubling the speed, Gen 5 Fiber Channel reduces the time to transfer data between two ports. The benefits of higher speed with Gen 5 Fiber Channel include:

  • Reduced Number of Links

The first application of new Fiber Channel speeds is on Inter-Switch Links (ISLs) between switches. Large fabrics are composed of many switches, which are connected via multiple ISLs. Reduction of the number of ISLs between switches is a key benefit of each higher speed.

The higher-speed links of 16 Gbps FC eliminate tens or hundreds of ports as compared to an 8 Gbps FC fabric. The real savings occur when the number of HBAs, switches, and end devices can be decreased, given the higher performance of 16 Gbps FC.

  • Reduced Power Consumption per Bit

Besides the reduction in equipment that cuts power consumption dramatically, Gen 5 Fiber Channel also reduces the power required to transfer bits on the link. When the cost of cabling and Operating Expense (OpEx) such as electricity and cooling are considered, the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is often less when links are run at twice the speed. The goal of Gen 5 Fiber Channel design is for a 16 Gbps FC port to consume less power than 2 × 8 Gbps FC links, which deliver the same throughput.

  • Easier Cable Management

Managing hundreds of cables from a single switch or bundles of cable from a server is a daunting task. The reduction of cables means less troubleshooting and recabling. The cost of cabling is significant; reducing the number of links by using Gen 5 Fiber Channel links reduces the work and cost involved in cable management.

  • Simplified Infrastructure Upgrades

Deploying a Gen 5 Fiber Channel SAN now also makes server and storage upgrades easier down the road. With a Gen 5 Fiber Channel infrastructure in place, you can easily and non-disruptively swap out servers and upgrade storage arrays to take advantage of technology advancements as needed, without impacting the rest of the infrastructure. This approach is far easier than having to swap out the fabric as well as the server and storage when an upgrade is needed.

Yarob Sakhnini is Regional Director for the Middle East, Mediterranean and Africa (MEMA) region at Brocade (News - Alert) Communications. He is responsible for leading the sales and pre-sales engineering teams as well as planning and executing channel and marketing strategies to help grow Brocade’s business in the region. He is a networking industry veteran with over 21 years of experience in various senior technical management roles.

Edited by Cassandra Tucker
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