The Dallas Cowboys.
Once upon a time, Great Institutions. Now… Not!
: Fibre Channel is set to join them in the “Where are they now?” file.
I’ll repeat that for the hearing impaired: Fibre Channel will fall. Fail. Falter. In other words: The end is nigh!
But all kidding aside, I’m not trying to start a panic here. As is the case with our Sun (that hot, throbbing blob up in the sky; not the one that makes servers), there’s still some time (tick, tock, tick, tock) before the thing fizzles out. Network managers who’ve deployed Fibre Channel, or investors that have bought stock in Brocade, still have time to prepare for the end of the world (as we know it, Jimmy!).
But how long? Read on, gentle reader, and all shall be revealed.
Let’s get one thing clear from the start: I’m not anti-Fibre Channel. Far from it: I was actually one of its earliest proponents. Way back in 1989 (simpler, yet happier, times), just before I moved to the U.S.A. from the U.K., I wrote one of the first articles about what was then a little known high-speed LAN standard called Fibre Channel.
Fibre Channel was the brainchild of a bunch of academic types at the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) with very large foreheads (“fiveheads,” you might say), and its biggest competitor back then was generally considered to be asynchronous transfer mode, or ATM.
Anyway, 12 years ago, it was a younger, thinner Steve Saunders that did the due diligence for his article, compared the specs and applications for both standards, and stuck his cervical vertebrae out – predicting that Fibre Channel would beat out ATM for very-high-throughput I/O apps within ultra-high-speed LANs (the term “SAN” not having been invented at that time).
I even titled the article: “Fibre Channel Outpaces ATM.”
And, my! How the villagers laughed. Suffice it to say that my analysis was unpopular with vendors, pundits, and other journalists – most of whom at that time were hailing ATM as the Second Coming.
Whatever… It took a decade, but both the ANSI boffins and I were eventually proved right, which is quite satisfying if you’re the sort of “told you so” person who takes satisfaction in that sort of thing (and I know I am).
But now things are about to change, and Fibre Channel’s fortunes are set to take a nasty turn for the worst. How do I know? It’s all about history – and learning from its lessons.
As a journalist I’ve written about a bunch of technology rumbles over the years: shared media networks versus switched networks, 100Base-T versus 100VG-AnyLAN, ATM versus IP, Netware versus NT (not much of a fight, that one).
And, of course, Ethernet versus Token Ring, FDDI, FDDI II, FFOL, HIPPI, IsoEnet, ATM, and a few others that should never have gotten off the whiteboard.
(For more on all this, see if you can lay your hands on a copy of that ripping historical yarn, The McGraw-Hill High-Speed LAN Handbook, by Stephen Saunders, McGraw-Hill, 1996, available at all good garage sales and recycling facilities near you.)
What’s interesting (I hope) about all these fights is the characteristics they share:
- The press picks one technology and starts hyping the bejeesus out of it. The
pack’s choice is based almost exclusively on what veeps of marketing tell
it, though trade journalists also have a natural tendency to migrate towards
the more recent of any two given technologies. This is because the “New
Technology Underdog” story is a lot more interesting than the “Hey, This New
Technology Sucks!” story, and actually takes a lot less chutzpah to write. (Note: The press can’t lose with this gambit, because, should their chosen
technology keel over later on, they still get to write the juicy “Backlash!”
“Where Did It All Go Wrong?” and “We Blame [name of big vendor]!” articles).
- Vendors line up on either side of the battlefield,
William-Wallace-versus-Evil-English fashion, and…
- If there’s a standards process involved, the vendors promptly hijack it,
putting their short-term fiscal interests over those of their users.
- Market research firms forecast that the market for this new technology will
grow to twenty gazillion-trillion-jillion dollars by next Tuesday, and…
- End users (poor buggers) pay way too much to wander around trade shows
and conferences in a confused state, not being invited to the standards
meetings, trying to work out which is the best option, and finding out that, yes, actually, sometimes people do get fired for buying
[insert name of current or historical market-leading vendor here: IBM/Cisco/Novell/Brocade, etc.).
Next: Case, business, lack of