February 26, 2001, 3:00 PM — CISCO SYSTEMS IS poised to launch a number of Fibre Channel-to-IP conversion switches that officials say will validate the storage-over-IP network model, preserve existing Fibre Channel relay investments, and deal a blow to the Fibre Channel switch industry.
Fibre Channel advocates argue that IP bandwidth limitations hinder IP performance, but the Cisco products will utilize the new and faster iSCSI standard which will be ratified in May, when the Cisco IP products are also set to arrive.
"IP is prevalent and low-cost," said Mark Cree, general manager of Cisco's storage router business unit. "And iSCSI will allow for an entire storage infrastructure [to travel] over any IP medium."
Fibre Channel switch technology has been criticized by companies such as San Jose, Calif.-based Nishan Systems, whose products route storage data from Fibre to less expensive IP.
Like the Nishan devices, Cisco's IP products scale storage from Fibre to IP, but added technology from San Jose, Calif.-based Cisco's acquisition of NuSpeed will enable end-to-end IP storage networks. Beta versions of the Cisco products are already running Oracle database applications above the performance level of Fibre Channel, Cree said.
"Oracle is just one example. We will have a full set of partners, and anything that runs on SCSI will run on iSCSI. That will be a big surprise, that IP is a better medium than Fibre Channel," Cree said.
Some Fibre Channel customers are reconsidering their Fibre Channel investments, according to Ashok Kumar, an industry analyst at Menlo Park, Calif.-based U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray.
"The Fibre Channel industry has shrunk too far to be a major force again," Kumar said. "The next big wave of storage industry growth is likely going to be the deployment of IP-based storage." Only the arrival of a "killer app" will justify further Fibre Channel investment, Kumar said.
But others claimed that Fibre still has a secure place in the network. For example Wayne Rickard, the senior vice president and CTO of Dallas-based Gadzooks Networks and the chairman of the technical council for the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), said that Fibre Channel lays the foundation for a number of value propositions because of its capability of moving huge amounts of block data.
"Backup doesn't sound like the killer app. But you are not putting [Fibre Channel] in just to do backup, but also to add virtualization and add snapshot capability, which over time will continue to add value," Rickard said.