SAN JOSE, Calif. – Emulex announced its first server adapter cards for 16 Gbit/second Fibre Channel, starting the marathon to the next generation of the storage systems interface.
Fibre Channel is expected to be the dominant link for storage gear for the foreseeable future. However, market watchers say its reign will begin to decline starting in 2014 as new versions of 10 Gbit/s Ethernet come on strong. Long term, storage and other network traffic is converging on Ethernet to simplify nets and shave costs.
Emulex claims its LightPulse 16Gbit adapters will deliver more than one million I/Os per second on any one of its four ports. In anticipation of the shift, the card's ports can each support 10G Ethernet or be aggregated into a 40G Ethernet link.
The adapters will ship in December. Emulex expects they will carry about a 25 percent premium over today's 8Gbit Fibre Channel cards. The also support two other storage networking links—iSCSI and RDMA over converged Ethernet.
The Emulex cards are the company's first to support the 8 Gbit/s Gen 3 PCI Express systems interconnect. They also are its first to support the PCIe single-root I/O virtualization standard which will let them create 256 virtual cards, up from just eight in the last generation.
"These are our first cards designed from the beginning with virtualization and cloud computing in mind," said Shaun Walsh, vice president of marketing at Emulex. "That gives users more flexibility assigning quality-of-service and security levels to individual data flows," he said.
The cards are based on an eight-core Emulex ASIC announced in May. It supports copper and fibre media, offload of networking from the host CPU and reduced latency by 60 percent compared to prior cards.
Other vendors are driving in the transition to 16G, too. In May, Brocade announced its 16G ASIC and has subsequently shown cards and switches for IBM's Power servers.
Rival QLogic has also announced 16G cards. Mellanox Technologies has cards supporting Infiniband and 10G Fibre Channel over Ethernet.
Walsh said the Mellanox cards do not support optical links, and the Brocade cards cannot support a mix of either Ethernet or Fibre Channel on all their ports. Vendors will stage a plugfest for their 16G FC products later this month.
"The 16G FC ecosystem is still maturing—it's a five-year transition," said Walsh.
"By the middle of next year, I'd expect to see adapters and switches shipping and server validations fairly well established," focusing initially on the Intel Romley server platform, he said. "From there, it’s a two to three year transition to get to 50 percent of the shipments being 16G," he added.
It took the industry from 2008-2011 to get to the point where half the installed base was for the prior generation 8G FC. The shift took twice as long as the move from one to two and two to 4G Fibre Channel, in part because the 8G products carried a significant price premium.
"End users employing Gbit Ethernet will keep using Fibre Channel, but those who go to 10G Ethernet will explore Fibre Channel over Ethernet," Walsh said.
The Dell 'Oro Group projects revenues for Fibre Channel cards will decline from about$835 million a year to about $600 million in 2015 due to increased adoption of Ethernet for storage nets. Market watchers at LightCounting estimate that Fibre Channel shipments will peak at slightly more than four million ports in 2013.
Meanwhile, a 32G Fibre Channel standards effort is still in the works for a new generation of hybrid FC/Ethernet cards. The 16G standard was ratified in September 2010.