Fibre Channel vs. iSCSI

While iSCSI hasn’t supplanted Fibre Channel in the enterprise, its popularity is growing

"Fibre Channel is dead." That was the controversial conclusion of one participant in a heated debate at an industry conference back in 2000. Industry vendors were investigating a new protocol – storage over IP – that they said would replace the then dominant Fibre Channel.

"Fibre Channel is dead." That was the controversial conclusion of one participant in a heated debate at an industry conference  in 2000. Industry vendors were investigating a new protocol – storage over IP – that they said would replace the then dominant Fibre Channel. That newfangled transport protocol, which allowed storage traffic to flow across the Gigabit Ethernet network, would become iSCSI – it would be implemented by individuals who were familiar with Ethernet networking, but not with the more complicated and expensive Fibre Channel

Spin forward seven years and the battle between Fibre Channel and iSCSI is now passe. Fibre Channel isn’t dead – it’s still the dominant storage protocol -- and iSCSI is being implemented at an increasing rate. According to IDC, while iSCSI commanded just 3% market share in external disk storage systems (with Fibre Channel accounting for the rest), the research firm expects that market share to increase to 21% by 2010. Now the two technologies even exist in the same network.

Fibre Channel is being used in enterprises to host transaction- and data-intensive operations because of its performance and its assured delivery of data; iSCSI, an inexpensive technology that operates on top of Gigabit Ethernet, is being used by organizations that don’t have dedicated and storage-savvy IT personnel and in small and midsize businesses and departments in the enterprise to host mid-range business-critical applications that do not require the blazing performance of Fibre Channel

Today, the industry is vetting iSCSI to run on 10Gbps Ethernet, where it can take advantage of TCP offload, remote DMA and I/O virtualization capabilities. Research firm Dell’Oro Group sized the 10Gbps Ethernet switch market at 100,000 port shipments in the fourth quarter of 2006 with revenue of $1 billion. As 10Gbps Ethernet continues to grow, there may be no way to stop iSCSI’s market momentum.

Fibre Channel, on the other hand, may at some time be replaced by the proposed Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), a technology that relies on the lossless, enhanced Ethernet specification. This technology, which layers Fibre Channel over Ethernet, will be attractive to companies that want to operate storage and networking on a converged network. FCoE products are expected to be available from Cisco, Brocade, Network Appliance, Nuova Systems, Emulex and QLogic sometime in 2009.

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