February 26, 2001, 3:19 PM — One constant facing IT managers is ever-expanding storage requirements. In the InfoWorld Enterprise Storage Survey, 96 percent of respondents indicated that their needs will increase this year, and 39 percent indicated that they could always use more storage capacity. This is no surprise: Some of the largest enterprises already maintain data past terabyte levels and are starting to plan for pentabytes and exabytes. Fifteen percent of our respondents have a terabyte or more online.
To use those mountains of data effectively, you must be able to sling data around your network in chunks of gigabytes and terabytes. The best way to accomplish this, now and in the future, is to use fiber-optic technology as the basis for your storage networking schemes. Whether you're building a SAN (storage area network) or connecting NAS (network-attached storage) devices, a high-fiber diet is the key to your enterprise storage system's longevity, performance, and stability.
Although high-end storage solutions have traditionally used fiber, copper is still widely used in lower-end SCSI products and in quite a few server rooms. This is the first thing that has to change. Fiber is superior to copper in three key areas: the distance data can be transmitted, security, and throughput, which are all particularly advantageous in a storage network.
A superiority complex
First, copper-based storage networks suffer from severe distance limitations, which can be measured in feet. For example, you can't run Fibre Channel (FC) protocols through copper beyond 30 meters, but using fiber optics allows you to spread out more than 1.5km before performance degrades. For this reason alone, we expect that most real-world FC installations will be "fiber-on-fiber."
Second, security becomes important when you start spreading your storage network across a campus. Exposed copper cables provide an excellent radio antenna for broadcasting data without your knowledge. Although tales of data theft via RF (radio frequency) interception seem to be strictly James Bond material, corporate espionage still depends more on defecting employees or overheard conversations than on a black van parked across the street.
Many CTOs require above-normal security for sensitive projects, yet they have no idea who might be listening in on the corporate network. This is even more critical when you're dedicating a network for storage traffic, because your databases may be the object of some teen-ager's playing this century's version of Capture the Flag.
Finally, the throughput required for higher speeds isn't possible with copper. You can run data at gigabit speeds through copper (if all of the connections are perfect) but with 10Gb standards in sight, copper technology is pretty much maxed out. It's clear that fiber is no longer strictly a backbone technology; it ought to be the medium of choice in the server room and beyond.