Fibre Channel vs. Ethernet – Should You Switch?

Depending on which study you read, fibre channel based storage area networks are the topology of choice for somewhere between 40% to 60% of the storage networks in production. The IT professionals that run these networks are besieged with marketing that suggests they abandon their storage networking technology of choice and jump on the Ethernet bandwagon. While Ethernet can certainly make a case for net new installations, does it make sense for organizations with Fibre Channel already embedded into their environment to abandon their investment in favor of an entirely new Ethernet storage networking topology? In this video, we chalk-talk this topic with Brocade‘s VP of Product Marketing – Scott Shimomura.

There are three justifications that proponents of an Ethernet only architecture will typically advocate; performance, price and simplicity. But are these justifications enough to push an organization with Fibre Channel already embedded in their data center to switch to Ethernet?

The Performance Justification

Both Ethernet and Fibre Channel are constantly pushing their respective technologies to be faster and more consistent. Today the most common installed Fibre Channel offerings run at either 8Gbs or 16Gbs. Ethernet on the other hand is typically at 10Gbs. While there are nuances,  8Gbs typically runs at about the same effective rate as 10Gbs. 16Gbs FC should out perform 10Gbs Ethernet in just about all instances. For the organization with FC already implemented, it seems that performance is at least a tie, but in all likelihood, FC has an advantage.

The Price Justification

The key for a price comparison between FC and Ethernet is to make sure that apples are being compared with apples. FC is always used for data center class storage networking. Ethernet hardware can come in a variety of forms that can service home offices all the way up to data centers. In general, we find that 8Gbs FC is less expensive than data center class 10Gbs Ethernet; while 16Gbs is at or near price parity.

The Simplicity Justification Complexity

The hardest part of this argument to pin down is the simplicity argument. It is generally assumed that Ethernet is easier to deal with. But is it really in this instance? First remember that 60% – 80% of data centers are running a Fibre Channel SAN already, so it is safe to assume that there are many IT professionals already familiar with managing it. Also, as you scale any storage architecture, more planning and thought has to be given to it. While neither becomes necessarily complex, at scale any architecture requires careful attention.


FC or Ethernet, which is best for storage? For net new implementations, the points on each side could be debated but for 60%-80% of the market that already has FC embedded, it is hard to justify a switch to Ethernet. In fact, as we discussed in our video, “Chalk Talk Video – The Software Defined Data Center Needs Next Generation Storage Networks”, there are many compelling reasons to not only stay with Fibre Channel but to also expand its use throughout the data center.

Click here to see our Chalk Talk Video about the FCIA's new Gen 6 Fibre Channel

 Brocade is a client of Storage Switzerland

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2 comments on “Fibre Channel vs. Ethernet – Should You Switch?
  1. Jim O'Reilly says:

    The cloud and Software-Defined Storage (emphasizing use of COTS and server virtualization) both are Ethernet-Centric and appear to undermine the argument for FC.
    Also, the cost comparisons between ordinary 10G Ethernet (as opposed to Converged Ethernet) substantially favor ordinary Ethernet which is correspondingly cheaper than FC.
    Another argument is road-map.- Ethernet is solidly delivering 40 and 56 gigabit today, while we are two or more years from FC reaching 32 Gigabit.

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