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32GFC – Long Live Fibre Channel!

Storage networking vendors announced 16Gb Fibre Channel adapters and switches as early as 2011. When the FCIA (Fibre Channel Industry Association) announced in late 2013 that the INCITS T11 standards committee completed the physical specification for the next generation of Fibre Channel (FC) products, 32GFC became the fastest serial lane technology designed for transporting storage data.  It effectively doubles the throughput of a single link to 3,200 MB/s in each direction.  This announcement was the trigger point by which Fibre Channel vendors could begin to design their 32GFC capable offerings.  It is expected that an ecosystem of 32GFC adapters and switches will begin to emerge commercially during 2015.

New standards don’t come about by accident, a coalition of technology companies make up the INCITS T11 standards committee that contribute and guide the technical language to make up a technology standard.  The FCIA is the nonprofit marketing organization that creates and manages the Fibre Channel speed roadmap, the timetable of where Fibre Channel has come from, and the future of where it is going.  The roadmap goals are purposeful, increase the speed in modest steps that match the typical data center equipment refresh cycle of 3-5 years. 

To complement this timetable, the FCIA has maintained a requirement that all new specifications have a backward compatibility requirement of at least two generations.  Together, this means that data centers that invest in Fibre Channel can adopt the latest Host Bus Adapters (HBAs) with higher speeds and maintain compatibility to current switch/storage investments, a window of compatibility of between 9-12 years in theory.

All Fibre Channel speeds up to this point have been serial lane technologies, using only a single pair of signals and associated components which helps to keep costs low.  You may hear of faster technologies such as 40Gb Ethernet (40GbE) or 56 Gb InfiniBand (56GIB), but these are multi-lane technologies made up of slower base speed lanes.  Multi-lanes add more components which leads to greater costs and complexity, with that comes backward compatibility and connectivity challenges.

Also, for the first time, FC-PI-6 uses Forward Error Correction (FEC), which improves the reliability of Fibre Channel links through the recovery from bit errors that occur in high speed networks. FEC helps minimize or avoid data stream errors that can lead to application performance degradation or outages.

Now that INCITS T11 has finished FC-PI-6 they will begin work on the next step.  We will likely next see a parallel version of 32GFC called 128GFCp which will be ideally suited to reduce switch frontplate space by reducing port counts for interswitch links.  Will 64GFC be the next base speed for Fibre Channel?

FCIA also recently launched a Knowledge Vault designed to be a resource for IT executives who are interested in learning more on how Fibre Channel can deliver greater business value. It’s a great repository of professional videos and an assortment of collateral that reinforces why Fibre Channel is the purpose-built and proven network infrastructure for storage, engineered to meet the demands of today’s enterprise data centers.

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