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Fibre Channel Vendors Split On Standards

Light Reading
News Analysis
Light Reading
5/15/2000

One of the demos at the Network + Interop trade show in Las Vegas last week was supposed to demonstrate progress towards developing standards for Storage Area Networks.

In some respects, however, it demonstrated the reverse - a rift between the market leader of Fibre Channel switches, Brocade Communications, Inc. http://www.brocade.com and its rivals that could slow down the arrival of interoperable products.

The demo at N+I was staged by the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA), a group of five switch vendors that aims to speed up the standards process by agreeing on draft submissions to ANSI, the American National Standards Institute.

However, Brocade, which is a member of the FCIA and claims to have 90 percent of the market, didn't participate in the demo - leaving the four other members of the FCIA to play among themselves.

In the demo, four streams of video were passed over a network comprising switches from Ancor Communications, Inc. http://www.ancor.com, Gadzoox Networks, Inc. http://www.gadzoox.com, McData Corp. http://www.mcdata.com and Vixel Corp. http://www.vixel.com.

In order to stage the demo, the four vendors took existing proposals for standards for various aspects of Fibre Channel switches, refined them and then ran interoperability trials to smooth out the kinks. They probably hope that the specs stand a better chance of being incorporated in ANSI standards if they've demonstrated that they work in practice and have widespread industry support.

The fly in the ointment is the routing protocol. Brocade is trying to get its own FSPF (Fabric Shortest Path First) protocol adopted as an ANSI standard, while the other four vendors have come up with an alternative called OSRP (Open Systems Routing Protocol).

It's unclear whether there's much difference between the two routing protocols, according to Henry Robinson, Brocade's director of software product marketing. Details of OSRP haven't been published yet - having been derived in the interoperability trials running up to the demo.

Brocade takes the view that N+I demo didn't prove much, anyhow, because its focus was too narrow. Users want to be able to mix and match equipment in complete Storage Area Networks, which include not just Fibre Channel switches but servers, storage devices and adapter cards, according to Robinson. Users are unlikely to mix different vendor's Fibre Channel switches in the same network, he adds, so there's not much point in proving that they will work together.

By Peter Heywood, international editor, Light Reading http://www.lightreading.com

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