Small SNW plays could make big waves

But the real buzz surrounds Fibre Channel over Ethernet.

Storage Networking World came and went with me neck-deep in my lab testing products for review. Yet even at a distance, some of what was announced at the event this week caught my attention as harbingers of advances to come.

SAS (serial-attached SCSI) -- long rumored to take over parallel SCSI -- seems to be experiencing a resurgence, with deployments from industry stalwarts Dell and HP and bread-and-butter vendors Infortrend and Rasilient.

Sure, point-to-point connections and 6Gbps transfer rates make SAS compelling, but it's the protocol's flexibility that makes it a manufacturer's dream come true.

For example, you can mount both SAS and SATA drives inside a storage box or a server with SAS controllers, thereby supporting both performance-demanding and capacity-hungry applications in a single chassis.

Mount a controller with an external port on your host, and connecting a SAS box becomes almost as easy as plugging in a network cable. Need to expand? Just connect a second box to the back of the first using a similar cable.

With that kind of ease of implementation and a speed that rivals FC (Fibre Channel), it should come as no surprise that die-hard FC vendors such as Emulex are embracing SAS.

Speaking of FC, the major players are gearing up for 8Gbps, as Brocade and QLogic, to name two, are joining Emulex in favoring faster throughput. As it happened for 4Gbps FC previously, expect disk vendors to soon follow suit with 8Gbps products of their own.

However, the big buzz I heard long-distance from Dallas was not about SAS, nor about 8Gbps FC -- and not even about the first live appearance of XAM, which some folks contend is still years away from general availability. It was about FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet), a technology that in a few months went from a debate-worthy jot on paper to the first multivendor demo this week at SNW.

Part of that fast turnaround comes thanks to Nuova Systems, the startup that invented the concept. The name may not be a sufficient giveaway, but there is Cisco money, as well as many Cisco ex-employees, behind this company.

The upside is that if you have too many servers disconnected from your FC SAN, FCoE can mend those connections without requiring you to purchase wagons of FC HBAs. In fact, with FCoE, your applications talk to their FC storage systems over Ethernet cables, as the protocol seamlessly wraps FC frames inside Ethernet frames.

There is a new acronym for that: CNA (converged network adapters), essentially a NIC that speaks FC. Concerned about speed? So are the pioneers in this space. In fact, the demo was put together using 10GbE.

A white paper from Nuova Systems does well to spell out the bottom line on this new technology.

Although you can't buy CNA or FCoE products quite yet, the quick pace of the past few months suggests it won't be long before you'll be explaining to your CEO how investing in CNAs will save the company a bunch of money down the road.

Meanwhile, here in my lab, a SAS array awaits my battery of tests. More on that to follow.

Join me on The Storage Network with questions or comments.

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Mario Apicella

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