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Fibre Channel Strategy Supports On-demand Video

Aug 23, 2006 8:00 AM

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Audio and video users with particularly large demands for bandwidth and quality often gravitate not only to fiber-optic networks but also to systems that allow them to distribute storage of key data among multiple locations and give everyone in their environment access to the data, wherever it is stored.

Universities, hospitals, and large corporate enterprises with multiple offices nation- or worldwide are prime examples, says Harry Mason, director of industry marketing for LSI Logic, and a member of the board of directors of the Fibre Channel Industry Association.

Fibre Channel is an infrastructure technology based on an ANSI standard that combines high-capacity fiber connectivity with Storage Area Networking (SAN) technologies to provide huge amounts of data storage that can be accessed over an IP-based network. One of Fibre Channel’s committees has developed Fibre Channel Audio Visual, designed specifically to support the sharing and distribution of high-bandwidth video, says another FCIA board member, Scott Kipp of McData Corporation.

Indeed, because of the large file sizes involved and the desire for on-demand access from virtually anywhere in a university or other environment, video applications tend to be particularly appropriate for fiber distribution and for the Fibre Channel approach to both storage and data sharing.

The Fibre Channel isn’t a public Internet application that anyone can access. In fact, it presupposes that participants are already linked together or have some common interest in sharing data. This orientation goes back to the standard’s origins as a method of handling security online transaction data, says Mason.

Starting with such tasks as managing credit card purchases online, Fibre Channel grew to embrace disaster recovery and secure storage of backup data. “More and more users wanted to get access to data,” Mason says, “and we started looking for new interfaces we could use to go longer distances and share common data and storage pools between multiple users. The notion that I could have a high-bandwidth connection that I can use to traffic my Internet, voice and video, all on the same wire, is appealing to a lot of people, especially on the corporate level.”

Mason cites hospitals as a setting in which Fibre Channel technology is potentially useful. In particular, routing high-definition medical imaging files and other information among users can call for just the sort of fast, secure data management that Fibre Channel seeks to provide.

“You can’t compress the data,” Mason says of the typical hospital video application, “so you need high bandwidth to deliver all that data uncompressed.” Bandwidths in fiber applications can often exceed 1Gbps, a far higher capacity than even high-speed cable modem connectivity. “The more bandwidth there is, the more pixels there are, the more storage you need, and the better it is for Fibre Channel,” Mason says.

Kipp says adoption of Fibre Channel also mirrors the spread of extremely high-bandwidth connections through the rest of society. Although telcos and others are vigorously promoting “Fiber to the Home” as a competitor for cable and DSL, the broader term “Fiber to the Premises” is used to embrace business users as well as residential.

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