Insight and analysis on the data center space from industry thought leaders.

Fibre Channel: The Best Kept Secret in Enterprise Data Centers

IT landscapes are rapidly changing to improve compute infrastructure and better service business needs and the storage network plays a very vital role in these environments, writes Tim Lustig of QLogic.

Industry Perspectives

September 30, 2013

4 Min Read
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Tim Lustig is Director of Corporate Marketing at QLogic Corporation



QLogic Corporation

Driven by the desire for a competitive edge, IT landscapes are rapidly changing to improve compute infrastructure and better service business needs. The storage network plays a very vital role in these environments, and IT administrators know that Fibre Channel inherently delivers what is required from a storage transport technology; performance and reliability. In a recent end-user survey by Enterprise Strategy Group* (ESG), 85 percent of the participants responded that they will increase or maintain investment levels in Fibre Channel SANs. Key drivers noted were ‘Performance’ and ‘Reliability’ over other storage technologies. According to IDC, more than 90 percent of Fortune 1,000 data centers use Fibre Channel as the de facto standard for storage networking. In addition, IDC recently projected a compound annual growth rate of more than 60 percent for enterprise data storage through 2015.

A key factor driving IT transformation and Fibre Channel health is server virtualization. The availability of servers based on Intel’s E5 processors combined with new features within VMware’s vSphere 5.1 and Microsoft’s Hyper-V hypervisors, have introduced a new game-changing compute platform. This platform supports new levels of virtual machine (VM) density, and Tier-1 applications that previously required dedicated server hardware for the first time could run on virtual servers.

ESG’s survey confirms this rapid growth in server virtualization. Of all servers capable of being virtualized within their data centers, 41 percent of respondents reported between 51 and 100 percent of those servers were virtualized. Over the next three years, 71 percent of respondents planned to virtualize between 51 and 100 percent of servers that could be virtualized. In this same three year time frame, IDC reports that VM deployments will grow by more than 91 million.

Infrastructure to Support New Technologies Lags Behind

While improved hypervisors and E5-based servers are driving significant deployment in many enterprise data centers, the I/O and network infrastructure to support these new technologies lags far behind. To fully optimize a virtualized data center, servers need maximum I/O capacity to support Tier-1 applications that require higher bandwidth. In addition, increased bandwidth is needed for densely virtualized servers, which aggregate I/O from multiple VMs to the host’s data path. Highly virtualized environments generate a tremendous amount of I/O traffic, magnifying the I/O performance bottleneck issue already present in most enterprises.

As companies move Oracle database applications, Microsoft SQL Server, SAP and other mission-critical applications onto virtualized servers, the robust nature of Fibre Channel becomes necessary for satisfying storage I/O performance and data integrity requirements. Fibre Channel's credit-based flow control – one of the exclusive features of Fibre Channel that make it so well suited for block-level storage data networks and interconnects – delivers data as fast as the destination buffer is able to receive it, without dropping frames or losing data.

Cloud Computing Driving Demand

Cloud architectures are also driving demand for more modern IT landscapes that deliver multi-tenancy, greater bandwidth and faster transactional response times. Multi-tenant infrastructures by nature put additional stress on storage networks for greater reliability, stability and scalability. Within these new IT architectures, storage technology must support granular Quality of Service (QoS) as an essential attribute to avoid I/O bottlenecks and maintain Service Level Agreements (SLA’s). Fibre Channel is deterministic by design and can be fine-tuned with capabilities that eliminate network congestion and maximize efficiency and performance to guarantee SLAs.

Cloud computing, plus the latest VMware and Windows hypervisor implementations are pushing the limits of what storage I/O can handle. The evolving needs of storage networks point directly to Fibre Channel, and more specifically, to the advanced capabilities of 16Gb Gen 5 Fibre Channel. Gen 5 Fibre Channel is backward compatibility with the huge installed base that represents an incredible investment by the world’s largest and most successful companies. Gen 5 Fibre Channel continues to empower end-users by delivering architectural flexibility, enabling a more agile, cost effective and efficient environment. With a strong roadmap on the horizon, Fibre Channel provides confidence that investments in the technology will be preserved into the foreseeable future, while its inherent characteristics play an even greater role in the protocol’s long-term viability.

*ESG Fibre Channel End User Survey commissioned by QLogic Corporation and completed in April 2013.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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