Sprint demos long distance Fibre Channel over IP

Pilot project connects servers 1,800 miles apart

Sprint, Hitachi Data Systems, and Cisco Systems have set up an experimental storage area network (SAN) that demonstrates a new, less expensive way of backing up storage data over long distances.

The Internet Protocol-based network, which connects servers 1,800 miles apart in Overland Park, Kansas, and Burlingame, Calif., uses the Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) standard.

The pilot project is significant, because it transfers data over a much greater distance than FCIP networks typically encompass. "This is the first time that a distance of this kind has been accomplished with Fibre Channel over IP, " said Audrey Harman, Sprint's manager of technical staff.

FCIP is one of a number of new networking protocols designed to move data between servers and storage devices using Internet Protocol (IP) networks. Unlike the older Fibre Channel protocol, which is popular in the enterprise, FCIP uses less expensive networking equipment and does not require a special dedicated line for networking.

Sprint's pilot connected Hitachi Freedom Storage Lighting 9900 V Series systems using private Sprint circuits and Cisco MDS 9000 SAN switches.

Sprint's Global Markets group is looking at developing the long-distance Fibre Channel over IP service into a product, the company said, but such an offering would likely be six to nine months away, according to Richard Villars, an analyst with the IDC research firm.

A Fibre Channel over IP service offering would be less expensive than Sprint's current long distance storage networking offering, a leased Dense Wave Division Multiplexing line, said Harman, because it could be run over commodity IP lines. "We have been asked by customers to do [Fibre Channel over IP across] distances of 200 to 700 miles. Now that we've proved we can do this using Fibre Channel over IP, we can offer our customers a lower-cost option," she said.

More pilots will be needed, and Sprint will need to support a lot more hardware and software, however, before it can begin offering Fibre Channel over IP services to a wide range of customers, said Villars. "Just having Sprint, Cisco and Hitachi Data Systems do this test is of limited value for most customers," he observed.

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