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Brocade VP: Flash spurs coordinated Gen 6 Fibre Channel launch

Brocade, QLogic and Broadcom coordinated this week’s shipments of the first switches and adapters to support Gen 6 Fibre Channel storage networking technology.

We caught up with Jack Rondoni, vice president of storage networking at Brocade, to talk about the latest generation of Fibre Channel (FC), which is designed to support 32 Gigabits per second (Gbps) and 128 Gbps. Rondoni also gave his take on the future of the specialized storage technology at a time when many experts predict the use of Ethernet-based networking will continue to grow for enterprise data storage. Interview excerpts follow.

I’m sure you’ve heard the death knell sounding for Fibre Channel. What might change that picture with the launch of Gen 6 Fibre Channel?

Jack Rondoni: I’ve been hearing that death knell since the year 2000 – which is kind of humorous since we’re in 2016, and the technology is still advancing to the future. The biggest difference right now is, when Gen 5 launched, Brocade was on an island. We were the only one launching that technology in the market. Our competitors were publicly saying Fibre Channel is dead, and the adapter vendors were focusing on [Fibre Channel over Ethernet] FCoE technology – and frankly, so was Brocade. We were working on FCoE technology. But, the difference is we were doing that in parallel. It was not an either/or.

With Gen 6, the vast majority of the ecosystem is already there . . . Part of that is just the failure of FCoE in the market, but I also think it’s clearly the realization that mission-critical applications still run on block storage today. They’re the applications that run companies. It’s not Facebook-class data. If you want to keep those applications running and keep your company running, Fibre Channel is the most proven, most resilient technology out there.

Why did everyone get on board for the Gen 6 launch?

Rondoni: The proliferation of flash-based storage. There’s a clear benefit that solid-state storage gets with Fibre Channel. We see higher attach rates of Fibre Channel to SSD-based storage. And SSD-based storage carries a very good value proposition to the end user community – better performance, better storage capacity utilization. That dynamic in the storage array market was not there [when 16 Gbps Gen 5 FC launched]. It was just at its early stages.

How do you see the battle between the 25/50/100 Gigabit Ethernet shaping up against 32/64/128 Gbps Fibre Channel?

Rondoni: Certainly within the Fibre Channel community, there’s aggressive work being done. Obviously, Gen 6 includes 32 Gigabit. It also includes 128 Gig, [and] you can take multi 32 Gigs today and trunk ’em at 64 much like most of the early 50 Gig implementations will be.

Netting it out, Fibre Channel will always be faster than Ethernet, whether that’s a comparison of 32 to 25, 128 Fibre to 100 Gig Ethernet. And if you look further into the future, the standards works that are being done at 64 Gig Fibre Channel serial technology and 256 Gig parallel, it’s actually ahead of where 50 Gig serial and 200 Gig Ethernet is. From the standards on the Fibre Channel side, we expect 64 or 256 to be done in 2017, while on Ethernet, the 50 and 200 Gig timeframe is going to be probably 2018.

To me, it’s really not about speed. Fibre Channel will always advance the roadmap to be a step ahead of Ethernet for those who care about it. But, the demand for resiliency, availability and deep instrumentation within the storage connectivity networks is actually going to be more important than the speeds because you’re going to have many, many workflows in these environments.

What’s in store for the short- and long-term future of Fibre Channel?

Rondoni: Fibre Channel will continue to advance to enable [enterprises] to use next-generation storage technologies such as high-performance SSDs and [non-volatile memory express] NVMe without ripping and replacing their entire Fibre Channel environment. We’re ready for the future of any kind of new storage devices being thrown at us.

The second thing is that Fibre Channel will continue to advance on its core principles of the highest levels of resiliency, availability and performance, and we’re going to keep the operational costs down as low as possible.

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