Friday, March 21, 2014

The Truth Behind the iSCSI vs Fibre Channel Debate

For a number of years now, the debate over iSCSI vs Fibre Channel has raged on. Fibre Channel was once considered king with certain vendors touting its superior reliability and speed; those vendors were also the ones with large Fibre Channel install bases. Also, iSCSI has been perceived as a low-end solution because of the cost effective solution of Ethernet switches; however, advancements in switch technology and enhancements in iSCSI storage controllers has brought iSCSI into the mainstream.

For those installations where Fibre Channel protocol is the standard, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) is available as a viable alternative to Fibre Channel itself, as well as iSCSI, offering both protocols over an Ethernet connection. The Ethernet technology is evolving very rapidly, with Forty Gigabit Ethernet already in widespread use for core switching. Additionally, iSCSI is 40GbE capable, and we are led to believe that 100GbE is just around the corner.

When we compare the state of the art for Ethernet storage networks with traditional Fibre Channel, the future looks a lot brighter for Ethernet. Most Fibre Channel shops are currently running 8 Gigabit FC, with many still on 4 Gigabit. 16 Gigabit has started to be available from storage vendors, and we may see 32 Gigabit within a couple of years. While Fibre Channel has moved from 4Gb to 8Gb to 16Gb and maybe 32Gb in the near future, Ethernet has moved from 1Gb to 10Gb to 40Gb, and 100Gb is not too far off.

The good news for storage customers is that there are now lots of choices and lots of price points to meet every need and every budget. Nobody has to move to 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and nobody has to move to 16 Gigabit Fibre Channel. Now more than ever before, it is possible to match the speed and throughput requirements to the most appropriate and cost effective network medium and protocol.

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