The typical data center supports multiple networks — one for data and applications, one for storage, and perhaps another for server clustering. As such, servers must feature multiple network adapters that fulfill the I/O requirements of each function. What’s more, servers commonly have dedicated interfaces for management, backup or virtual machine live migration.

Supporting all of these interfaces contributes significantly to data center complexity and imposes significant costs related to cabling, rack space and upstream switches. In addition, the rat’s nest of cables and connections required for each different function makes it harder to cool the data center and contributes to rising power costs.

That reality has led to efforts to consolidate storage and data networks onto Ethernet and IP protocols. Traditionally, storage-area networks (SANs) have used Fibre Channel technology, which was designed to provide reliability and performance for storage networking. But because Ethernet is used throughout the data center, Ethernet-based iSCI emerged as a popular choice for those who didn’t want a separate network or protocol just for storage.

Other options include Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and its cousin Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP), each of which encapsulate Fibre Channel frames for transmission over data networks. Proponents of these protocols tout a number of benefits, including lower operating costs, ease of deployment, scalability, low latency and high performance. But while each has found niche implementations, neither has gained widespread traction.

Although many organizations see value in consolidating storage and data networks, Fibre Channel still reigns supreme as the storage networking technology of choice for mission-critical applications. The main reason is that Fibre Channel is lossless. Packets are never dropped and are always received the first time, which allows for consistently high performance and low latency. Other advantages of Fibre Channel include seamless scalability, compatibility with equipment from multiple vendors, and Quality of Service that prioritizes the most important applications.

That’s not to say that all Fibre Channel networks are up to the demands of today’s storage infrastructure. In many environments, older Fibre Channel switches lack the performance needed to support virtualization and increasing use of solid-state disks (SSDs). That’s why many organizations are planning to upgrade their Fibre Channel networks.

Each generation of Fibre Channel technology has doubled the speed of its predecessor. Gen 5 Fibre Channel helps organizations meet growing performance demands by delivering 16Gbps speeds. And earlier this year the Fibre Channel Industry Association ratified Gen 6, which will double SAN speeds to 32Gbps and provide enhanced security and improved energy efficiency. Gen 6 products will be available in 2016.

If it’s time for a storage network upgrade, ACS can help. Let us show you how the latest Fibre Channel technology can ensure the highest levels of performance and reliability for your mission-critical applications.