Reliant - Fibre Channel vs. Ethernet

We often work with customers considering making a switch from a Fibre Channel to Ethernet-based storage. While Fibre Channel is the top choice in 40% to 60% of production SANs, there’s been a major push from storage manufacturers for organizations to abandon FC and make the move to Ethernet.

The three justifications Ethernet proponents usually advocate are performance, simplicity, and price. But for organizations already heavily invested in Fibre Channel, it’s not so clear that jumping ship in favor of Ethernet is the best way to go.

Whether or not these three reasons pan out is certainly up for debate. Let’s go into some more detail on each:

Performance

Both Ethernet and Fibre Channel are constantly evolving to be faster and more consistent. But FC does has advantages over Ethernet, performance-wise.

Most Fibre Channel networks these days are 8Gbs or 16Gbs, while most Ethernet installations are typically 10Gbs. Generally, 8Gbs networks run close enough to the effective rate as Ethernet as to make the difference negligible. And 16Gbs FC is pretty much always be faster than 10Gbs Ethernet. So for data centers already running FC, performance is at least a tie, and often has the advantage over Ethernet.

Simplicity

Perhaps the main argument for Ethernet over FC is simplicity. Most IT planners believe Ethernet is easier to work with. But organizations already running Fibre Channel have invested large amounts of time and institutional knowledge into the topology, and switching mid-stream means starting over, and having to use extra resources.

All storage architectures grow more complex as they scale, and 10Gbs Ethernet is no exception. Even if Ethernet is easier to maintain early on, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it won’t eventually become as complex as an FC SAN over time.

Price

To perform a legitimate price comparison between Fibre Channel and Ethernet, you first have to make sure you’re comparing apples to apples. FC is never used outside a data center storage environment, while Ethernet hardware can be found in all kinds of networks, from home offices to large data centers.

Strictly comparing data center level implementations, 8Gbs FC is generally less expensive than 10Gbs Ethernet. And 16Gbs FC, on the other hand, costs about the same as 10Gbs. So price-wise, Ethernet isn’t always a better option, whether you’re measuring it against 8 or 16Gbs FC.

Final Thoughts

If simplicity, price and performance don’t clearly fall on either side, which topology wins out? With net new implementations, it’s a close call. If you’re not already invested in FC, it can make sense to go with Ethernet.

But for the 60-80% of the market already running Fibre Channel, it may be difficult to justify making the switch to Ethernet. There are compelling reasons to stay with FC, and even expand its use throughout your data center.

If you’re considering making the switch to Ethernet in your data center and have questions, reach out to one of our storage experts or give us a call at (404) 551-4534 and we can help you weigh your options.