The Importance of 8Gb/s Fibre Channel for Next-Generation Data Centers

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  Data is the byproduct of the information age and is being generated, processed and stored at an exponential rate. Storage area networks (SANs) have become the infrastructure of choice for networking, transporting and storing data traffic. As this trend continues, many IT managers are faced with network congestion and I/O bottlenecks. To alleviate congestion and increase network bandwidth, enterprises are looking to 8Gb/s Fibre Channel technology.

Leveraging 8Gb/s Fibre Channel provides the bandwidth required to support the expected increase in data traffic brought about by organizations that are: consolidating servers through server virtualization and blades; leveraging higher performance, next-generation PCI Express 2.0-enabled servers; utilizing next generation flash drive technology–such as solid state drives (SSDs); deploying or enhancing storage networking infrastructure to address transaction intensive and data streaming applications; and improving data center power efficiency

Today, the average server operates well below its capacity and IT administrators are being challenged to increase server utilization and reduce operational costs. To address these challenges, IT administrators have adopted server virtualization and blade server technologies. Server consolidation strategies and virtual sever technologies aggregate an expanding I/O workload onto fewer HBA ports, which increases data traffic through each physical HBA port. To prevent bottlenecks between the server and storage resources, data center administrators must ensure their networks provide sufficient capacity. New 8Gb/s Fibre Channel I/O connectivity solutions are designed to provide the required bandwidth for a balanced flow of data traffic between these resources.

Advances in server bus architectures are also driving the need for greater bandwidth. PCI Express (PCIe) has become the dominant I/O interconnect technology for servers. To keep pace with the enhanced processing capabilities of new server technologies, designers are transitioning from PCIe 1.x to the faster, higher bandwidth PCIe 2.0 server bus interface. PCIe 2.0 doubles the transfer rate so that a single lane is able to transfer 5Gb/s of un-encoded data in each direction. The enhancements in PCIe 2.0 were necessary to address bandwidth requirements driven by server consolidation strategies and server virtualization technologies. New 8Gb/s Fibre Channel technology is a natural complement to the PCIe 2.0 bus architecture and will provide servers with ample bandwidth and throughput performance.

Historically, to maintain I/O balance throughout a SAN infrastructure from the host server to back-end storage systems, the Fibre Channel link speed was increased, doubling with each generation (1Gb/s, 2Gb/s, 4Gb/s and now 8Gb/s).Fibre Channel technology has evolved to keep pace with the effective bandwidth of server busses (Chart 1).

Chart 1

In addition to the technological innovations noted above, regulatory requirements, transformations in digital entertainment, data retention and compliance requirements, along with data protection needs are also driving the demand for increased network performance.

Things to Consider When Migrating to 8Gb/s Fibre Channel

As companies migrate to 8Gb/s Fibre Channel, there are several factors to take into consideration to ensure a smooth transition, including:


      Scalable Architecture: Companies planning a transition to 8Gb/s Fibre Channel should make sure the technology you choose leverages a common, backward compatible driver and management architecture so you can easily transition from your current 2Gb/s or 4Gb/s Fibre Channel architecture. This will ensure a smooth transition and reduce deployment time and administrative costs.


      Enterprise Scalability: By nature, enterprise SAN environments are dynamic and designed to scale. Choose a Fibre Channel architecture that mirrors that scalability, with common management tools, device drivers and firmware. This provides the flexibility to grow your environment and reduce the associated management complexity.


      HBA Management Capabilities: Comprehensive management is also a critical consideration, as it directly affects IT efficiency and budgets. You should look for HBAs with management tools that provide comprehensive control of your Fibre Channel connectivity within a centralized, cross-platform framework (Figure 1) that combines flexible remote-management options with secure access control. With this solution in place, you can easily deploy and integrate new 8Gb/s Fibre Channel HBAs, while leveraging existing management and scripting tools.

Figure 1

    * Power Efficiency: Demand for computing resources is ever-increasing and IT organizations are tasked with responding to this demand, while keeping operational costs such as energy consumption, in check. Power efficiency should be integral to your buying decision, but don’t compromise increased performance for improved power efficiency–look for the best of both.

    * Enterprise Interoperability: The selection criteria for choosing SAN connectivity components, such as HBAs and switches, should be based on how well those components individually perform within the SAN. Seasoned data center administrators demand best-in-class products based on industry standards and best practices. The much touted “end-to-end” HBA and switch solutions offered by some vendors are designed to lock customers into a solution that may be proprietary and mediocre at best—look for a solution that is based on open standards and interoperable with all of the leading Fibre Channel SAN suppliers for broader interoperability.

    * Performance: To accommodate the needs of the ever-changing business environment, SANs are designed to be dynamic, with fluctuating workload and traffic patterns. Look for 8Gb/s Fibre Channel HBAs that deliver superior performance across a wide range of application environments with varying server workloads. Also, look for increased collaboration between software and hardware suppliers which yield better interoperability and system level performance. For example, ensure that the 8Gb/s Fibre Channel HBA supports the Message-Signaled Interrupts (MSI) and MSI-X (MSI eXtended) standards. MSI and MSI-X are improved interrupt handling mechanisms based on the PCI standard, which enable improved application performance, reduced host CPU utilization and greater I/O scalability.


      Data Integrity and Security: Data is one of the most critical assets of a corporation and maintaining the integrity of data as it travels within the SAN is paramount. It is critical to select Fibre Channel HBA solutions that leverage a combination of parity, CRC, ECC and other advanced error-checking and correcting algorithms that protect data from corruption. In addition to data integrity, ensure the solution you consider provides advanced security features based on the industry-standard Fibre Channel Security Protocol (FC-SP). Authentication capabilities provide a comprehensive level of security by protecting all of the access points into the SAN. These features help to reduce data security breaches and address regulatory compliance requirements.


 Improving server utilization and decreasing operating costs in today’s data centers are driving the adoption of server consolidation and server virtualization technologies, which are most effective when used with networked storage. These technologies are driving the overall compute platform to increase in performance (e.g., multi-core; multi-thread CPUs) and require a higher performance I/O structure.

As SANs are the preferred infrastructure for networking and transporting data traffic, enterprises are looking for a solution to increase network bandwidth and maintain a balanced flow of data traffic. The answer is next-generation 8Gb/s Fibre Channel technology, which is capable of supporting increased storage networking traffic brought on by enterprises that are consolidating servers through virtualization and blades. Customers should consider 8Gb/s Fibre Channel HBA HBAs that offers seamless integration, while providing the highest level of performance, manageability, scalability and interoperability.

About the Author:

Al Gamarra is manager of product marketing for Emulex Corp., a global provider of enterprise-class solutions and technologies that intelligently connect storage, servers and networks, to ensure data access that's open, secure and adaptable. For more information about Emulex, go to