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Storage Networks

The Numbers Don’t Lie: Fibre Channel Outships Ethernet Again!

by Scott Shimomura on ‎08-01-2012 04:59 PM (10,729 Views)

It’s a pretty bold headline, but it’s supported by industry numbers regarding aggregate optical bandwidth shipped. It’s yet another data point that demonstrates the health of the Fibre Channel industry and counters the misguided perception that “Fibre Channel is dead”.

LightCounting is a seven year old market research company focused on the in-depth study of high speed interconnects for the datacom, telecom, and consumer communications markets. Their unique research includes coverage of the number and type of fiber optic transceivers sold throughout the world.

According to LightCounting’s recent report, “Optical Communications Market Forecast: Do Not Give up on the Optical Networking Industry” released in June 2012, Fibre Channel shipped more than 84 Petabits/second (that’s a million Gigabits/second) of optical bandwidth in 2011 – more than any other networking protocol (Ethernet bandwidth was just under 73 Petabits/second).  Optical bandwidth is defined as the number of fiber optic modules or transceivers sold in a year multiplied by the speed of those transceivers.

In 2011, Fibre Channel sold over 11.7 million (M) SFP+ with 7.7M of those supporting 8 Gbps Fibre Channel (8GFC).  Ethernet was the next leading protocol that shipped 17.8M transceivers with 11.8M supporting Gigabit Ethernet.  Because Fibre Channel sold more transceivers at higher speeds, the optical bandwidth of Fibre Channel transceivers surpassed that of Ethernet transceivers by 16%.

While the majority of the Fibre Channel transceivers were 8GFC, 16 Gbps Fibre Channel (16GFC) transceivers saw a jump in shipments of over 3800% as 16GFC started shipping in volume. According to the report, shipments of 16GFC modules were over 156,000 in 2011 and are expected to continue their meteoric rise by climbing 268% in 2012.  Because of the dominance of 8GFC and the surge of 16GFC, Fibre Channel is expected to ship more optical bandwidth than Ethernet in 2012 as well.

While most people correctly perceive Ethernet as the dominant networking technology, over 95% of its bandwidth is copper-based as opposed to fiber-based. The combination of high speed and high percentage of optical ports enabled Fibre Channel to ship more optical bandwidth than Ethernet.

The founder of LightCounting, Vladimir Kozlov explained, “While Fibre Channel is not generally known to most consumers, it continues to shine in the data center in terms of fiber optic bandwidth.  For all seven years that LightCounting has collected data, Fibre Channel has shipped more optical bandwidth than any other technology. While most servers are connected via 1GbE copper, Fibre Channel connectivity to servers and storage is primarily optical.  If you see a fiber optic cable coming out of a server, it’s probably Fibre Channel.”

Industry luminary Bob Metcalfe, inventor of Ethernet, said in 2005, “Fibre Channel’s doomed”. Since then, the Fibre Channel industry has continued to grow. The Dell’Oro Group recently reported that the Fibre Channel switch market posted its second consecutive record quarter, so it’s beginning to look like Metcalfe’s prediction that “It’ll be over in ten years,” may be premature.

on ‎08-03-2012 02:30 PM


Its odd to me how many "pundits" seem to ignore human nature when they write their articles. Perhaps they never had operational responsibility for a data center?

Its been my experience that any new technology has to meet the "order of magnitude" test to displace a successful one in the market.  My version of OOM test states that a new technology has to reduce cost by about an order of magnitude (5-10x) or improve performance/scale/reliability by an order of magnitude to offer enough benefit to offset the risk inherent in deploying it in a production environment.

As an example of the OOM test in action, I note that server virtualization passed the test (typical increase of applications per physical server is 5 -10 with the time to deploy an application going from weeks/months to hours.)

Perhaps the market statistics you cite indicate other storage networking technologies can't meet this test?

by Scott Shimomura
on ‎08-10-2012 11:19 AM

As usual, very insightful comments from the wise one Mr. Reams.

on ‎03-13-2013 11:15 PM

I just read this article & find it very interesting, use of high bandwidth is really very important thing for datacom, telecom, and consumer communications markets. Thanks for sharing this article.