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HP cool about 4Gbit Fibre Channel. (Storage News Review).

OEM storage suppliers holding what is effectively the controlling vote for the future of 4GBit Fibre Channel say they are keeping their options open, but the largest of them Hewlett Packard Co is clearly in no rush to invest in the variant of the SAN protocol.

Like Hitachi Ltd, IBM Corp, and EMC Corp, HP has said that it will offer customers 4GFC if there is sufficient demand. Given the huge share of the total SAN market accounted for by these companies, their position is critical for the future of 4GFC.

However unlike its rivals, HP explained its position and so exposed a reluctance to invest in bringing 4GFC to market which other OEMs may also share--in private.

"Not only do we have to do the qualification testing, but customers have to bring it in and do their implementation and work. Where's the gain in return for that pain?" said Roger Archibald, vice president and general manager of HP's infrastructure and NAS division.

4GFC is a variant of FC being proposed as an alternative or complement to the 10GFC that is already scheduled to ship in the second half of next year as a successor or step-up from current 2GFC technology. At the beginning of this month the Fibre Channel Industry Association announced that its members had voted for the 4GFC protocol to be ratified for use not only inside storage array cabinets--in which form it was already expected to ship next year--but also in the SAN links between storage devices, switches and servers. The surprise vote significantly boosted the chances that 4GFC will be taken up.

"The importance of that vote is that it represented the industry saying that it will let the market decide," said Archibald. The highest profile proponent of 4GFC has been switch and HBA maker QLogic Corp, which says that because it is already supplying chips for use internally in 4GFC disk arrays, it can readily supply 4GFC HBAs and switches, and will begin doing so around the beginning of the year.

QLogic argues that the industry plumped for 10GFC as a successor to 2GFC some while back before the economic slowdown, and that the changed circumstances now make 4GFC a more appropriate choice. Arguing that 10GFC represents overkill, it also claims that 4GFC SAN hardware can be produced at the same price as 2GFC SAN hardware, and that 10GFC technology will be prohibitively expensive for some while yet. It points out that unlike 4GFC, 10GFC is not backwards compatible with 2GFC.

HP made it clear that it has not yet written-off 4GFC. It will have little choice but to offer the technology if its rivals do so, and if there is sufficient demand it for it. But Archibald said the question of whether 4GFC SAN gear will cost more or the same as 2GFC "depends who you talk to."

"How many speed bumps is a customer willing to hit? 4GFC is still a little more expensive, and it's still disruptive," he said. The speed bumps will be the work that customers will need to do to move from current 2GFC either directly to 10GFC, or via an interim 10GFC step.

"Look at 2GFC today. Performance of the FC network is not close to being bottlenecked. If it's at all close anywhere, it's in switch-to-switch links. Trunking is a simple way to address that," he said.

Although the FCIA ballot was secret, it has been widely assumed that OEMs voted against use of 4GFC outside of disk arrays. In an announcement the day after the vote, QLogic announced its intention to support 4GFC--as well 10GFC-alongside JNI, Agilent, Fujitsu, Seagate.

Qlogic first publicized and detailed its support for 4Gbit FC in April this year (CI 9 April 2003), and says it will make 4GFC hardware available around the end of the year. "The competitive pressure on the big players will be extreme if we're offering 4GFC, and they're only offering 2GFC," said QLogic marketing vice president Frank Berry. "What end-user isn't going to want it?"

"The opponents are saying there's no need for 4GFC, but there is a need for 10GFC. They're stuck, because they've spent their money on 10GFC," he said.

In order to unstick them, QLogic will need to generate or prove a market demand.
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Publication:MarketWatch: Storage
Date:Jun 24, 2003
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