As we learn more about the standards process, it’s important to note that every organization has its own way of doing things. Fibre Channel, for instance, works under the guidance of INCITS.

Who is INCITS?

INCITS — the Inter National Committee for Information Technology Standards – colloquially pronounced as “Insights” — is the central U.S. forum dedicated to creating technology standards for the next generation of innovation. INCITS members combine their expertise to create the building blocks for globally transformative technologies. INCITS standards platforms provide the basis from which innovation begins.

INCITS members create the foundation for globally transformative technologies, from cloud computing to communications, from biometrics to software engineering. INCITS develops and promotes the adoption of formal information and communications technology standards with global relevance and reach, and advances the U.S. position on standards for products and services in the international arena.

INCITS relies on the expertise of thousands of engineers, entrepreneurs, developers, and other top-notch professionals to create consensus-driven, market-relevant standards that are at the heart of the tech industry. Through participation in INCITS, industry leaders and users alike have the opportunity, through standards, to open new markets, dismantle trade barriers, and create the foundation for the future information technology structure.

INCITS members are information technology developers, producers, and users of cutting-edge technologies — all sharing a material stake in the development of a standard. That’s why INCITS works to match the pace of innovation, constantly developing approaches for new technologies and updating standards for older products that are evolving through innovation.

It might be useful to look at an example. In 2018, there was a need for higher-speed Fibre Channel networks, faster uplinks, and faster inter-switch links. A proposal to do just this, called FC-PI-7, was developed by the work of the INCITS technical committees, T11, T11.2, and T11.3.

Let’s get a little nerdy here for a moment. The scope of FC-PI-7 and the technical committees was approved by the Executive Board. This 5th revision of the Fibre Channel physical layer standard evolved from 1/2/4GFC to 64GFC, or 100MB/s to 6400MB/s per port. The technical requirements of backward compatibility with 32GFC and 16GFC versions of the FC-PI standard were addressed by experts in specific disciplines.

Two of the most important aspects of Fibre Channel are backwards compatibility and “plug and play” to utilize existing infrastructure with new speeds. In FC terms, these are “must-haves,” and so was defined in the scope of work along with the requirement to use existing cable assemblies and realize reach goals of 100 meters.

Fibre Channel operated over long and short distances is also critical, so the scope of work included a 10KM optical variant and an electrical variant for backplane and adapter applications.  The FC-PI-7 standards for 64GFC enabled twice the throughput of 32GFC. Now, of course, you can’t just have long links – you also need to have high-quality links as well. To that end, then, FC-PI-7 also included a corrected bit-error-rate (BER) target of 1e-15 and utilized advanced bit error recovery achieved through use of forward error correction (FEC). FEC is a method of obtaining error control in data transmission in which the source (transmitter) sends redundant data and the destination (receiver) recognizes only the portion of the data that contains no apparent errors.

Once all the work was complete, the standard was forwarded for approval by the INCITS Executive Board. The Executive Board is the INCITS consensus body and has the ultimate responsibility for standards developed and approved by INCITS. It is responsible for ensuring accreditation, advancing the interests of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector which is made up of the manufacturing and services sectors whose main activity is linked to development, production, commercialization and use of new technology, while maintaining a viable, level playing field for furthering information technology.

A second example is the update and enhancement of an INCITs standard which was ratified in 2017, FC-NVMe.  The FC-NVMe INCITs standard defines the mapping of NVMe™ over Fabrics (NVMe-oF™) to the Fibre Channel interface.   FC-NVMe2 is a proposed standard which is currently (as of this writing) moving through the ratification process and is available for public review, having been completed by the T11-3 technical committee.  As previously noted, the non-volatile memory express (NVMe) is defined by technical proposals from a consortium of industry participants, but is not a standard.  However, transport of NVMe over Fibre Channel was standardized by the FC-NVMe standard and now updated and enhanced as the proposed FC-NVMe2 standard.

As we can see, INCITS and the technical committees are the guiding force for global and U.S. information and communications technology standards.  Domestically, new American National Standards are created and, globally, serve as the U.S. representative to the Joint Technical Committee 1 — a premier international tech standards-setting organization. This leadership role gives INCITS members direct entry into the U.S. and global standards arena, and provides the industry with a strong platform to design the foundation for globally accepted, highly interoperable products, such as Fibre Channel products.

The INCITS Process

At INCITS, the program of work is segmented into projects, each related to the development of a specific Standard, Technical Report (TR), or study area. Each project is assigned to a Technical Committee, Task Group, or Study Group. Many of these committees also serve as U.S. Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs) for the development of U.S. positions to the ISO/IEC JTC 1 or ISO Subcommittees.

INCITS facilitates notice of public review and comment of projects. The public review and comment period is required for INCITS Draft American National Standards, including the national adoption of International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) standards as American National Standards, and on proposals to revise, reaffirm or withdraw approval of existing American National Standards.

INCITS announces that document(s) have been circulated for a 60-day public review and comment period as specified on each notice. Comments received during the period noted will be considered and answered. Commenters who have objections, suggestions or comments should so indicate, include their reasons and suggested alternative language.

The public review and comment period also serves as a call for patents and any other pertinent issues (copyrights, trademarks). Fibre Channel standards are developed in accordance with INCITS governance and hence are open for public review and comment during the review period.  One may consider the public review process as a technology preview of a consensus based standards development processes designed to ensure that voluntary standards have  consensus, and are ratified by recorded vote, of directly and materially affected interests.

Actions related to processing an INCITS standard, such as new approvals, reaffirmations, adoptions, revisions and withdrawals are also posted for public review and comment in the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) Standards Action that can be found on the ANSI website.

Technical reports are informational or tutorial in nature, and they do not contain matter implying that they are preferred or recommended embodiment. They are produced, in some cases, to provide an example for the purpose of disseminating the technical and logical concepts in standards already published or under development. In other cases, they derive from studies in areas where it was found premature to develop a standard due to a still changing technology, or inappropriate to develop a rigorous standard due to the existence of a number of viable options.  INCITS has two types of technical reports:

  • those approved and published by INCITS as INCITS Technical Reports, and
  • those approved and published by INCITS and registered with ANSI

INCITS maintains a list of approved standards and technical reports which have been projects that were developed using the national process as defined by the INCITS procedures.

INCITS policy is to adopt as “Identical” American National Standards all ISO and IEC standards that fall within its program of work, with exceptions as outlined in their governance procedures.  INCITS follows the Expedited Procedures for the Identical Adoption of an ISO or IEC standard as an American National Standard.

Whenever it is determined that a standard has ongoing validity and effectiveness, but is mature and unlikely to require maintenance of any sort, it can be designated as a stabilized standard that removes the requirement for periodic review.

International Standards for the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry are developed within the ISO and IEC Joint Technical Committee 1 (JTC 1). In accordance with ISO/IEC JTC 1 and the ISO and IEC Councils, some International Standards and other deliverables are made freely available for standardization purposes.

The INCITS Executive Board is the consensus body that gives final approval to standards in the INCITS process.  The members of the Executive Board represent a diverse group of organizations from hardware and software vendors, government agencies, universities, consortia, and other organizations. As an example, the INCITs Executive Board just realized approval for publication by ANSI, a new standard in the Information technology sector – Fibre Channel – Physical Interfaces – 7 (FC-PI-7).  As a published American National Standard, the industry can confidently move forward with adoption of this new technology.

Next Time…

We’ll be looking at INCITS groups in greater detail, including answering the extremely common question: What is the difference between T10, T11, and T13? And what happened to T12?!

Check out the rest of the blogs in this series