Selling A High-End RAID Solution
As users demand faster data transfer rates, VARs should consider selling Fibre Channel over current SCSI technology.
The purpose of a RAID (redundant array of independent disks) system is pretty simple. By linking together a series of hard disk drives within an enclosure, RAID systems serve as large reservoirs of magnetic storage which allow users to instantly access stored data. Depending upon how the drives are configured, RAID systems also offer varying levels of fault tolerance to protect stored data.
Originally, RAID systems employed SCSI (small computer system interface) cards to regulate the flow of information from the hard disk drives. As users demanded faster I/O (input/output) rates, new generations of SCSI were created. The latest SCSI, Ultra2, has a data transfer rate of 80 MB/second. While there may eventually be an Ultra3 with faster data transfer rates, it is clear that enhancements to SCSI performance are beginning to ‘hit the wall.' Despite the maximization of SCSI technology, users are still requiring faster I/O rates.
An Alternative To SCSI
While users could be satisfied with current SCSI technology, some are opting for a higher performance, more expensive hard disk drive interface. The alternative interface, Fibre Channel, offers more flexibility in configuring RAID systems. For example, a SCSI interface can control 15 hard drives, while a Fibre Channel interface can have a maximum of 125 hard drives. "A one-terabyte RAID system means VARs have to loop together a high number of 9-GB or 18-GB hard drives. VARs could use multiple SCSI adapters or simply use one Fibre Channel. VARs have to evaluate how many drives are required. The more drives that are needed, the greater likelihood that Fibre Channel should be used," says Josef Rabinovitz, president of JMR Electronics. His company is located in Chatsworth, CA, and has 370 employees. Founded in 1981, JMR Electronics will post about $40 million in gross sales in 1998.
Sell To A High-End Market
The higher cost of Fibre Channel and enhancements to current SCSI technology have left Fibre Channel with mainly a high-end customer base. Some typical applications that require Fibre Channel are OLTP (online transaction processing) and OLAP (online analytical processing). Both require fast access to stored data and files are continuously updated in realtime. "OLAP applications are common in major department stores," says Gary Eckhardt, director of worldwide marketing for the storage systems division of IBM. "A transaction takes place at a store's POS terminal and that sales information is used to update inventory in realtime."
The use of Fibre Channel is also growing in high-end audiovisual markets, according to Eckhardt. "I recently attended a National Association of Broadcasters meeting and every company was using Fibre Channel or, at the very least, exploring it as an option," comments Eckhardt. "CNN, for example, does almost all of its digital video editing in realtime and uses high-performance Fibre Channel storage products."
Waiting For A Price Decrease
The cost of Fibre Channel will probably not decline significantly until there is a greater demand for the technology. As SCSI performance increased over the years, VARs did not have an opportunity to sell Fibre Channel in high volume. "I don't know any reason that would stop the price of Fibre Channel from decreasing," comments Rabinovitz. "Within two years, I believe the price of Fibre Channel and SCSI will be comparable."
Eckhardt agrees that the price of Fibre Channel will drop dramatically by 2000. "The performance of SCSI will eventually be maximized," says Eckhardt. "At that point, there will be enhancements to Fibre Channel, which has plenty of room for increased performance."