Data Center Cabling Solutions
Why Consider Generation 6 or Generation 7 Fibre Channel Switches?

Why Consider Generation 6 or Generation 7 Fibre Channel Switches?

  • Jan 21, 2019
  • fibre channel
  • Rick Dallmann

Rick Dallmann | Director, Data Center Architecture

At CABLExpress, we work closely with organizations as they design their data center cabling and switching topologies. Over the past year, we’ve seen a significant increase in usage of Gen 6 and Gen 7 fibre channel switches. All indications show this trend is now carrying into 2019. These switches provide a number of advantages that make them a great investment.

The trend began with the release of fibre channel Gen 6 optics in November of 2015. As with most new cutting-edge technologies, Gen 6 took some time to get a foothold in the marketplace. Enterprise data center operators began to purchase the new Gen 6 switches in larger numbers by 2017.

Gen 6 takes hold

By 2018, many mid-sized and smaller computing customers began to replace their older generation fibre channel switches with Gen 6 as their internal refresh cycles kicked in. In parallel with the new Gen 6 speeds in the market, Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe) was gaining traction in the data center space.

NVMe is defined by Wikipedia as “an open logical device interface specification for accessing non-volatile storage media attached via a PCI Express (PCIe) bus.” A third technology was also gaining momentum during this time period. Solid-state drive (SSD) storage was becoming the same cost (or less) than traditional hard disk drive (HDD) storage. SSD has several advantages over HDD, but the main advantage is that it can operate at faster speeds to reduce storage latency.

The bottleneck problem

As we work with organizations to improve their data flow, we’ve observed that some data center operators feel their current or existing generation of fibre channel switches (such as Gen 5) will support their organizational needs well into the future. But the problem is, they have bottlenecks or data traffic congestion in other areas of the data center: like network switching limitations or slower server speeds that won’t allow them to realize the benefits of the newer faster fibre channel speeds in Gen 6 or Gen 7.

As data center operators begin the refresh cycle of network switches (spine and leaf or two tier) and servers, the optimum price points they find for link speeds are 40G or 100G for network switches and at least a 10G data connection to the server. When they evaluate their existing storage infrastructure with the new network switches and servers, the bottleneck moves to the storage and fibre channel switches.

As we noted earlier, solid-state drive storage is much faster than hard disk drive and is the reason most new purchases for storage today will be with SSD. Add NVMe into the mix and it helps work in the compute cycle to accelerate the transfer of data between enterprise and solid-state drives (SSDs), reducing the bottleneck at the storage level and realizing the advantages of increased fibre channel speeds.

Next comes Gen 7

Fibre channel Gen 7 was released in November 2018. It features several benefits. First of all, Gen 7 doubles speeds from Gen 6, going from 32GFC and 128GFCp to 64GFC and 256GFCp. Also, NVMe advances from its generation 1 to generation 2 (now known as FC-NVMe) with Gen 7. The faster speeds from Gen 6 and Gen 7, working with NVMe, help reduce latency and increase output in the compute cycle and work best with newer cloud-based software applications.

If your organization is currently researching new fibre channel switching, consider a no-cost structured cabling design appraisal from CABLExpress. We can provide valuable insights on how other data center operators are connecting their hardware together. Our designs work with existing cabling plants to support Ethernet, Fibre Channel or Infiniband equipment and we include specific road maps to support the next generation of optics to hit the market.

Your layer one investment should always be a path to future computing successes. As new generations of hardware emerge, and faster data speeds follow, it’s helpful to have a knowledgeable layer one partner there to guide you.

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