Looking for an Alternative to Fibre Channel? A New Solution for Storage Area Networks.

Looking for an Alternative to Fibre Channel? A New Solution for Storage Area Networks.

August 16, 2000

By Wesley Smith

In today's data center environments, it is difficult to find anyone who is not either deploying, or thinking of deploying a Storage Area Network (SAN).  For those of you who are not as familiar with what I am talking about, a SAN is defined as a dedicated, high-speed network that connects storage devices and servers. The purpose of a SANs is to remove the general purpose network from storage-related activity, thus freeing up bandwidth for application processing.

Many vendors offer SAN solutions that utilize Fibre Channel switches for the SAN infrastructure.  But, is Fibre Channel the only technology out there for SANs? 

If you have not already installed a SAN, or would like to look at alternatives, you might want to keep these next comments in mind.  Companies typically base their computing infrastructure on what will give the company its best return on investment (ROI).  One of the factors in determining the ROI of SAN is the total cost of ownership (TCO) the SAN will have.  Forgive me for getting into the business side computing -- believe me, if I had my way everything in my network would be gigabit Ethernet and gigahertz Pentiums.  But, unless you work for a smaller company, my dream land will rarely be a reality.

A few things to think about before you install a SAN is "what does it cost to own a SAN?"  Most people today are not fluent in Fibre Channel so, you need to think about special training required to support this new network.  Fibre Channel equipment is what I would call "specialized."   The fact is, when design a SAN solution for your company, you are building and designing a network.  But, you cannot just go buy a cheap (or expensive) Ethernet switch from your local vendor and make a SAN work.  You must purchase a Fibre Channel switch to allow your SAN devices to connect to each other.  Don't forget the Fibre Channel controllers for your servers.  Cha-ching -- I'll let you fill in the approximate amounts, but the cost seems to be going up, doesn't it?

If you can put off a SAN for a few more months you might consider a new technology called EtherStorage.  EtherStorage is a new technology, being developed by Adapted ,that will allow you to build SANs over standard Ethernet networks.  What exactly is EtherStorage?  It is a new set of protocols that encapsulates SCSI commands and data into Ethernet frames.  The EtherStorage device will appear like a SCSI controller to a server, but will connect to an Ethernet network via a RJ-45 connector.  This allows companies to implement a SAN across an existing network infrastructure. 

Since EtherStorage technology is built off of SCSI and Ethernet technology, EtherStorate offers reliable SAN connectivity locally, or across a WAN, using TCP/IP.  The best part about this new technology is that the majority of IT professionals will be comfortable designing and implementing this type of SAN since it is identical to building an IP based Ethernet network.  Not to mention the reduced TCO provided by using standard Ethernet switches (Gigabit Ethernet is preferred by Adapted, but they claim that Fast Ethernet would also work.  Standard Ethernet is not recommended.) that you can purchase from your local vendor (which will most likely be covered under your already established service contract).  Last, support and design personnel will not have to have any specialized training. 

Now that you are aware of this Fibre Channel alternative for a SAN, it is up to you to decide which path you choose to follow.  Remember, the only correct choice is the one that provides the best ROI for your company.  Part of being a IT guru is staying on top of new technologies and ideas.  With the TCO potential that EtherStorage has, this technology could make you the local SAN hero.