Chalk Talk Video – The Software Defined Data Center Needs Next Generation Storage Networks

As we discuss in our video “Fibre Channel – The Next Generation,” organizations are moving beyond simple virtualization and into the software defined center. As a result, new requirements are being placed on the storage infrastructure. These data centers are now cloud like environments, powered by plentiful compute resources that are able to drive dozens more virtual servers per physical host than ever before. The storage tier is also an enabler, as it can, thanks to flash storage able to respond instantly to the massively random I/O stream generated by the densely populated physical hosts.

The connection between these two layers, the storage network, needs to keep pace and not become the next roadblock.

Gen 6 Fibre Channel

In response the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) has announced Gen 6 Fibre Channel, which will do more than keep pace with the demands of the software defined data center; it puts itself ahead of the demand for years to come. Gen 6 Fibre Channel is the next generation of Fibre Channel designed to address performance, reliability, and scalability requirements for hyper-scale virtualization, SSD storage technology, and new data center architectures. Most importantly, this technology is backward compatible with previous generations of Fibre Channel. This means that customers can begin to upgrade to 16Gbs FC now with full confidence that it will work with Gen 6 when it becomes available.

Gen 6 doubles the 16GFC data throughput of 3,200 megabytes-per-second (MBps) to 32GFC, which enables 6,400 MBps full-duplex speeds. Gen 6 also provides an option to quadruple 32 GFC to 128GFC throughput, thereby achieving full-duplex speeds of 25,600 MBps. While initial the 128GFB connections will be used for inter-switch links (ISL) there is little doubt that these speeds will eventually be needed by the attached storage systems and connecting servers.

More Than Speed

But as we discuss in the video Gen 6 is not just about raw bandwidth. In addition to faster speeds, key features of Gen 6 Fibre Channel include:

– Forward Error Correction (FEC): Improves the reliability of links through the automatic detection and recovery from bit errors that occur in high speed networks. FEC helps minimize or avoid data stream errors that can lead to application performance degradation or outages.

– Energy Efficiency: Lower energy consumption is achieved by allowing the Fibre Channel optical connectors to operate in a standby mode (or “nap”) multiple times each second.

– Backward Compatibility: 128GFC and 32GFC Fibre Channel supports complete and total backward compatibility to 16GFC and 8GFC networks. Ensuring complete investment protection, Gen 6 automatically configures to the fastest supported speed between any two network points, and requiring zero user intervention.


The capability to have hundreds of virtual machines per physical host allows the software defined data center to reach its full potential. The compute capabilities are there, and the storage media via Flash can keep pace, the missing link has been the network. As we discussed in the chalk-talk video “Fibre Channel – The Next Generation” the storage network is now ready to provide the capabilities beyond just bandwidth to deliver the software defined data center promise.

QLogic and Brocade are clients of Storage Switzerland

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