Advancements Approach Metropolitan-Sized Networks

New technologies in the storage and network spaces are providing IT managers with more and better options to link distributed enterprise locations. One approach, the Fibre Channel-based storage area network (SAN), has been available for some time, but advances in Gigabit Ethernet and the development of other fast technologies promise to extend high-performance traffic across potentially metropolitan-sized enterprise networks.

In late September, Cielo Communications (www.cieloinc.com) announced the development of its GBE1250ELX, an extended long-haul optical transceiver for Fibre Channel and Gigabit Ethernet networks. The company says the product can extend the coverage area of enterprise network environments to the metropolitan-area network standard of 100 km.

The GBE1250ELX works by transmitting data across optical networks at gigabit speeds, eliminating the need for expensive leased lines or other exotic approaches to remote connectivity. A serial-electrical to serial-optical transceiver module, the GBE1250ELX can facilitate connectivity between remote enterprise LAN locations at Gigabit Ethernet speeds.

Mike Cowley, president and CEO of Cielo, says due to the established presence of Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel in the marketplace, there is a need for technologies such as GBE1250ELX.

"Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel have been accepted as very efficient methods of transmitting huge amounts of data at speeds many times greater than those offered by the T-carrier lines," Cowley says. "The need for reliable Gigabit Ethernet and Fibre Channel functionality across longer distances has become critical."

Cielo’s announcement comes on the heels of activity in the nascent 10-GB Ethernet space, a technology that proponents hope will eventually enable metropolitan area-sized networks by means of an ultra-high performance 10-GB Ethernet backbone.

According to Sam Alunni, president of Sterling Research (www.sterlingresearch.com), much of the activity in the established Gigabit Ethernet and burgeoning 10-Gigabit Ethernet spaces is being driven by a trend among IT organizations to create and enable metropolitan-area networks.

"Gigabit Ethernet plays heavily in this kind of space, which essentially looks to create a big, regional LAN," Alunni says. He notes that in addition to the efforts of Cielo, firms such as switch manufacturer Anritsu (www.anritsu.com) and optical switch specialist Alidian Networks Inc. (www.alidian.com ) are developing technologies to enable metropolitan-area networks. "There seems to be a groundswell in developing [metropolitan-area networks], although it’s more of a piecemeal movement right now," Alunni says.

And then there is Fibre Channel: a scalable, mature technology that helps network topologies span a distance of up to 10 km. Thus far, Fibre Channel has been extensively used in the SAN space, and is primarily a means to connect storage subsystems over a dedicated, high-performance storage network. While Fibre Channel’s 10 km maximum coverage area essentially precludes its use in metropolitan-area network configurations -- which can often span distances of at least 70 km -- Fibre Channel-based SANs currently offer the most efficient and scalable way to share storage between remote locations.

Far from competing with one another, Arun Taneja, vice president of marketing at the Fibre Channel switch manufacturer Vixel Corp. (www.vixel.com), says that Fibre Channel-based and Gigabit Ethernet-based solutions can complement one another through a combined ability to offer IT organizations the best of both worlds. Taneja cites the example of a Vixel client that needed to couple fast performance on the LAN side with ultra-high capacity on the storage backend. A dual-headed Gigabit Ethernet/Fibre Channel-based SAN approach was a perfect fit for this environment.

"I can certainly see a need for Gigabit Ethernet, and there are definitely places where you would want Gigabit Ethernet on the LAN side. But once it comes to storage traffic, backup, or recovery, that’s where you’ll really see SANs come into play," Taneja says.