Today's Disruptive Storage Technologies
PCI-X and 2 Gb/s Fibre Channel technology can have a positive impact on the VAR and systems integrator.
Andy Grove, the former president and CEO of Intel, introduced the concept of "strategic inflection points" (events that significantly change the competitive product landscape). Resellers and systems integrators are often the first to benefit from these disruptions, assuming they recognize them and quickly act on them. In storage networks, there are two nearly simultaneous disruptive technologies about to take place:
- Deployment of two gigabit-per-second (2 Gb/s) Fibre Channel technology
- Deployment of servers with the new PCI-X (peripheral component interface) bus
Widespread deployment of 2 Gb/s Fibre Channel products is expected to begin later this year. 2 Gb/s is the most cost-effective way to double system performance and throughput. For only a slight price increase, the next-generation 2 Gb/s technology now coming to market will double throughput, providing a significantly higher speed to connect performance critical devices.
Some Products Will Upshift
The 2 Gb/s standard isn't exactly brand- new - JNI Corp. exhibited a working 2 Gb/s host bus adapter as early as May 1999. However, two major events are contributing to making 2 Gb/s a reality. Beginning this past April, every major switch company announced the pending delivery of a 2 Gb/s switch later in the year, completing the storage network and enabling deployment of an end-to-end 2 Gb/s network.
Typically, these products all have automatic speed switching, enabling them to be deployed in existing 1 Gb/s networks. As the additional components become available, the systems will automatically upshift to the 2 Gb/s data rate and drop to 1 Gb/s. Eventually the entire system will operate in a "pure" 2 Gb/s environment as products are upgraded or replaced with 2 Gb/s-ready products.
A reseller recommending this particular solution, which doubles the storage network performance with only a relatively increased budget, will be looked upon favorably by customers with increasingly tighter IT budgets. The benefit to the reseller is the ability to sell a product that may otherwise have awaited a larger customer order. The second major disruption is the pending deployment of servers equipped with PCI-X bus. Nearly all major server manufacturers are planning to ship servers with the PCI-X bus sometime in the second half of 2001. PCI-X will be required to efficiently handle the new family of 2 Gb/s HBAs (host bus adapters) coming to the market. A full-speed PCI-X bus is 64-bit, 133 MHz, for a maximum possible throughput of 1.064 gigaBYTES (GB) of data (slightly more than double the amount PCI can handle).
PCI-X will initially cohabitate the server with the PCI bus. It's likely that dual-port and 2 Gb/s technology will take those few PCI-X slots up as they can most efficiently use the additional bandwidth offered by the technology.
Which Products Will Be Ready For 2 Gb/s?
The move to 2 Gb/s and PCI-X won't be business as usual. With storage and system OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) setting up new qualifications of 2 Gb/s and PCI-X products, the reality is that one vendor's 1 Gb/s qualified product will not necessarily be ready for 2 Gb/s - or even qualified by OEMs for that matter! The competitive landscape is changing, and it's important to pay attention to the new players and consider all playing fields re-leveled until shown otherwise by market trends.
Considering the ever-increasing need for bandwidth, speed and performance - 2 Gb/s and PCI-X makes sense for almost every customer. Both technologies will be accepted and implemented on a rapid basis this year provided IT spending levels off, but where and when should the switch to 2 Gb/s and PCI-X be made?
Major Changes About To Take Place
It's obvious that major changes are about to take place in the storage networking world. There has been much attention paid to the "latest, greatest" sexy technology, the collection of iSCSI (small computer system interface), Gigabit Ethernet, SoIP (storage over Internet protocol), and others collectively referred to as IP (Internet Protocol) storage. Many of these technologies cannot match Fibre Channel's performance, reliability and, ironically, cost. The reality is that many are missing the strategic inflection point that is front and center - the very real and affordable deployment of 2 Gb and PCI-X.
There is another benefit to doubling storage network speed with 2 Gb/s product. The very "reasonable" cost of widening the data pipeline should allow companies to eventually look to these same resellers/integrators to recommend and add additional servers or more storage devices when time and budgets allow - which translates into additional revenue opportunities.
The clock is ticking toward storage networking's strategic inflection point. The question is, will it be a minor disruption or major change in the landscape, as JNI believes? Only the history books will tell for sure, but it would seem that all the signs are there for the savvy reseller/integrator to take advantage of in these changing times.