Fibre Channel Tutorial – The Basics

The Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) created the "Trusted Foundation," an initiative designed to raise awareness to current and potential users of storage networking about why Fibre Channel has become so predominant, amid a sea of other storage networking protocols.

As part of the campaign, FCIA visited storage administrators, industry analyst firms such as Demartek and other top technologists to chronicle why Fibre Channel is their network of choice for addressing modern data center storage issues. These entertaining and insightful stories, along with other resources such as videos from AOL, Rackspace and Legend3D, now live within an interactive Knowledge Vault.

To add to that body of knowledge, I was pleased to provide the following beginners tutorial on Fibre Channel basics from our Demartek library. I encourage you to share it with others who are new to storage technologies and visit our website for full version as well as more advanced information.

Fibre Channel Tutorial – The Basics

A storage area network, or SAN, is a computer network designed to deliver block-level storage to computers that are not directly connected to the storage devices or drive arrays. The storage in a SAN is not owned by one server, but is accessible by all of the servers on the network.

This SAN storage is divided into logical storage pools, or volumes, that can be assigned to particular host servers.

SAN interfaces include Fibre Channel, iSCSI, and Fibre Channel Over Ethernet. This tutorial will focus on Fibre Channel.

Fibre Channel is a high speed networking technology primarily used for computer storage applications.

Most of the larger datacenters that have implemented SAN technology have implemented Fibre Channel technology. These enterprises typically demand proven technology, need high-bandwidth storage solutions, are willing to invest in the hardware required to meet their performance and reliability needs, and typically have full-time staff dedicated to storage management. Many of these datacenters continue to invest in Fibre channel storage solutions, and plan to do so for the foreseeable future.

Fibre Channel technology was introduced to the market in 1997 at one gigabit per second (Gbps), and has doubled in speed every three or four years up to the current 16 Gigabit Fibre Channel technology available today.

Generally speaking, Fibre Channel is backwards compatible with the two previous generations. This means that 16 Gigabit Fibre Channel switches, host bus adapters, and optics are backward compatible with 8 Gigabit and 4 Gigabit equipment.

When using Fibre Channel, there are three basic ways to connect servers, which are known as initiators, to storage, which are called targets. These are direct connect, arbitrated loop, and switched fabric. Switched fabric is the most commonly deployed, while arbitrated loop is becoming less common.

Let’s examine some of the components used for Fibre Channel technology.

Fibre Channel host bus adapters, referred to as HBAs, connect devices to the Fibre Channel network, or another Fibre Channel device.

Fibre Channel storage arrays can be composed of hard disk drives, solid state drives, or a combination of the two. More and more storage arrays are beginning to be equipped with 16 Gigabit Fibre Channel host ports.

Fibre Channel switches are used to direct traffic into a Fibre Channel fabric. Backbones, or Directors, form the central core of an enterprise Fibre Channel fabric, and edge switches are the local attach points into the fabric. Enterprise Fibre Channel fabrics often have redundant components in order to provide high availability.

To learn abouton the importance of achieving high availability and sustained performance with Fibre Channel, please visit the interactive FCIA Knowledge Vault.