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With an eye on hyper-scale virtualization and solid-state storage, the Fibre Channel Association (FCIA) today laid out the roadmap for the Gen 6 Fibre Channel (FC) industry standard protocol that allows a bare speed of up to 128 Gbps for storage area networking (SANs).
Gen 6 is 32-Gbps FC, but it will reach 128-gig through four striped lanes. Until now, each generation of FC technology has doubled bandwidth from the previous generation. Gen 5, which has been available since 2011 but is still in the relatively early days of adoption, supports 16-Gbps bandwidth. Gen 6 will be the first time an FCIA standard includes specifications to stripe four lanes.
“What people see is one connector from the host side and underneath it is made up of four lanes,” said Mark Jones, President of FCIA and director of technical marketing at Emulex. “Gen 6 is comprised of both 32 Gbps and 128 Gbps in parallel speeds.”
Gen 6 is expected to hit the market in 2016. It will provide 6,400 MBps full-duplex speeds, twice that of Gen 5 FC.
“We have never been able to come to an agreement of four set of lanes,” said Skip Jones, chairman of the FCIA and director of technical marketing at QLogic. “With four lanes, you are aggregating each lane and put them in sequence. It’s not four trunked lanes. It looks like a small 128-port all the way up to the APIs.”
Emulex’s Jones said Gen 6 also includes several features that go beyond speeds, which include Error Code Correction (EEC) to maintain the quality of the links to keep the error rate low and ensure data quality. The Gen 6 Fibre Channel protocol also is backwards compatible and better encryption, meaning it supports the 800-131a information security standard of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).
“[Backward compatibility] is not new but we want to emphasize this because we thought we might lose people when we talk about 128 Gbps,” said Jones, of Emulex.
Gen 6 also includes N-Port ID Virtualization (NPIV), which is an ANSI T11 standard that describes how a single Fibre Channel physical HBA port can register with a fabric using several worldwide port names (WWPNs) that might be considered Virtual WWNs.
“We are finding [NPIV] use is expanding among our user base,” said Emulex’s Jones.
George Crump, president and founder of Storage Switzerland, said it will be interesting to see how Gen 6 affects the server-side flash market because customers in this area generally are concerned with network latency.
“Gen 6 could cause people not to do server-side flash,” said Crump. “This has the potential to forestall some from going to server-side flash. Gen 6 will also drive down the price of Gen 5.”