J Metz, R&D Engineer, Cisco

Storage is hard. Well, doing storage right is hard. In fact, it’s more than just hard – it’s extremely difficult.

Why? Because storage is the one part of the data center that is absolutely unforgiving. When you lose data, you don’t just lose a bit or a byte, you lose something of value. You lose something with meaning. It’s no surprise that people are far more paranoid when their data crashes than, say, when their laptop operating system crashes.

There are many different factors that affect long-term solutions to storage problems in data centers. Things change over time – the need for capacity grows, the need for scale, the need for performance, the need for better and easier management. All of this happens while simultaneously requiring the same level of comfort and consideration for being reliable.

This is why there’s a temptation to suggest that “new” systems will automatically and necessarily replace long-standing technologies, like the Fibre Channel protocol. And yet, when it comes to being able to wholly substitute the scalability, reliability, and performance for dedicated storage systems, there always seems to be something missing. There always seems to be something that needs to be done that Fibre Channel solves (and has always solved) better and easier “out of the box.”

Think about it this way: many storage solutions are non-deterministic. What that means is that a general-purpose network is created, and storage traffic is dropped on top of it, intermixing with other types of network traffic. Networks are not static, however, and there is congestion, “hot spots,” and other kinds of challenges that need to be overcome during their lifespan. Without special consideration, these types of network designs affect the storage durability/performance tradeoff in negative ways.

Deterministic storage networks, on the other hand, are specifically architected to handle these kinds of fluctuations as part of their design principles. Generally speaking, when you have storage systems that grow larger, they become more difficult to manage and their performance suffers. It becomes very difficult to keep the high benchmark of quality and integrity of the system, unless that system is prepared for those changes from the beginning.

Fibre Channel, being a deterministic storage network technology, has been tested repeatedly and come through with flying colors at both the smallest and very large scales (thousands upon thousands of nodes). Moreover, it’s been able to do this predictably.

Without question this is why the Fibre Channel protocol has been – and continues to remain – the dominant storage transport technology in data centers. Things change over time. There is a need for more capacity, more performance – all the while having to do so with fewer resources, less money, and fewer people. When the forces that affect the development and growth of data centers start to apply pressure, Fibre Channel has been the one technology that consistently provides the reassurance of predictability and reliability, regardless of which direction those forces take you.

In this solutions guide, we have looked specifically at how Fibre Channel has done this, with the powerful benchmarks that emerged from the 2016 plugfest at the University of New Hampshire. We’ve seen how the ongoing roadmap has been a constant guide for developers and customers both in the past and in the future, with an incredible vision of reliable storage traffic running at over 1 Terabit. We’ve also seen how Fibre Channel is a major transport for NVMe, being worked on by both T11 and the NVM Express group.

If there’s one theme that runs through this Solutions Guide, it’s that reliability and dependability for storage networks is not new, nor is it fading away. Fibre Channel has been, and continues to be, the gold standard for storage networks – regardless of storage device type. The fact that it’s applicable to multiple storage types, from SCSI to FICON to NVMe, underscores the well-designed nature of the protocol.

All in all, it’s worth reiterating the tremendous value that Fibre Channel has brought to storage networks and the preservation of not only the bits and bytes, but the meaning and significance of data. More to the point, it’s worth taking a closer look at the technology that has consistently proven its resilience and reliability, in the past, present and future.