4 Gigabit per second Fibre Channel started out as a solitary effort by QLogic to bridge the gap between the 1G and 2G systems of today and the 10G systems of the future, but it has quickly gained a following.
Support this past June from the Fibre Channel Industry Association was a big boost, and now PMC-Sierra has rolled out the first 4-Gig chips, followed on Friday by the first 4-Gig Fibre Channel transceivers from Infineon.
Thanks to backwards compatibility with 1G and 2G Fibre Channel – which 10G won't offer – and compelling pricing, 4G is starting to look like a winner.
"I think the same thing will happen to 4G as happened to 2G," says Arun Taneja, The Taneja Group's founder and consulting analyst. "Everyone said it was a stupid idea, no one needed that much bandwidth, etc. The reality is the switchover happened rapidly, but for reasons that most didn't anticipate. The 1 to 2G transition happened because the vendors could produce a 2G chip for essentially the same or lower cost and didn't want to carry two products. So they priced the 2G-based products at essentially the same price as the 1G-based products and, voila, the transition happened."
Taneja believes the same forces are driving 4G Fibre Channel – but it could come at a cost.
"I do think that by not doing 10G quickly, FC is going to lose the edge over IP," says Taneja. "They may have given iSCSI a break they may regret later."
Tony Prigmore, senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, thinks 4-Gig Fibre Channel "will have minimal impact on the initial iSCSI market." The reason, he says, is that 4-Gig Fibre Channel addresses performance, while the iSCSI market is still primarily a connectivity play. "Very few first-time iSCSI users will be hard-core performance hounds," contends Prigmore.
Steve Sturgeon, QLogic Corporate Communications Manager, reports iSCSI with offload will make its debut at 1 Gbps. "So now, instead of being half the speed of FC, it will be one-fourth the speed of FC," he says.
At 10 Gbps, both IP and FC will face the same cost challenges, according to Sturgeon, so neither has an edge at that speed. "The optical transceivers are expensive," he adds. "The only thing to hit the market that we can use as a measuring stick is the Intel 10Gb Ethernet adapter that is $7,999."
Competitive issues aside, QLogic thinks iSCSI and 4G and 10G Fibre Channel will all have a role to play, and the company plans products for all of them. "We think there is a place for all of it," says Sturgeon. "That's why we're doing iSCSI with TOE, 4G FC, and 10G FC. It will all co-exist in the marketplace. Initially, 10G is likely to be limited to applications like interswitch links."
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