Storage Fabric Lifecycles: An Overview

by dave on December 12, 2008

Continuing the thread of explaining the roles of storage fabrics that we’ve come to know and love (FCoE, Infiniband, 10GbE iSCSI, etc.), @rjhintz asked the following question:

What’s the expected technical life of a storage fabric install today before it’s upgraded to a new generation or forklifted out?

There are a few significant events that precipitate storage fabric changes:  the acquisition of technology that requires the change and CapEx/OpEx spend/reduction/allocations. That isn’t to say that incentivized fabric overhaul offerings don’t make any impact, but rather they’re the exception versus the rule.  Additionally, there are other factors that feed into infrastructure overhauls but are beyond the scope of this general discussion.  Let’s look at each of these metrics more closely.

Technology Acquisitions requiring infrastructure change

The first category usually associated with storage fabric lifecycle is the purchase and acquisition of storage system(s) that utilize newer fabric techology.  This is was most recently noted with the switch from 2Gb Fibre Channel to 4Gb Fibre Channel and will again be present as 8Gb Fibre Channel starts to gain momentum in the market.  Customers who had legacy 2Gb systems and purchased newer arrays that utilized 4Gb Fibre Channel adopted two stances:  either the fabric needed to be upgraded concurrent with the storage array or they deferred the purchase, opting instead to run at a “degraded” (really implied loosely here as data saturation over a 2Gb bus is STILL hard to achieve for most) level until the pricing level on 4Gb Fibre dropped.  The same pattern, to the best of my knowledge, will hold true on the 4Gb to 8Gb Fibre Channel adoption rate, though I’ve seen a few folks buying the infrastructure now (15% uptick in cost vs. comparable 4Gb technology) to prepare for storage array adoption.

CapEx/OpEx Spend/Reduction

One of the more pertinent aspects of lifecycle has to do with the micro-economics of each business that utilizes storage fabrics. Business cash flow has the same level of ebb and flow that the economy does, albeit with different cycling.  To that end, in years of strong growth, CapEx is more readily available for infrastructure overhauls that may not fall into the EOL/EOSL and necessary storage environments.  Think of it as port upgrades or switch fabric upgrades that consist of additional switches using ISL or, to a greater extent, the replacement of smaller port count switches with larger switches/port counts.  The same rule holds true on the OpEx side as well.  If infrastructure continues to run into service and support issues outside the larger scope of warranty and EOL/EOSL rules, it becomes a parasitic drain on the overall operating functionality of a business.  At that point, it generally behooves the company to evaluate and implement a supplemental set of technology to replace the ailing components.

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully this post has provided some level of overview on how fabric lifecycles (and even to a greater extent, STORAGE lifecycles) are affected within a business.

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