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The Fibre Channel SAN Fabric
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Fibre Channel is the power behind the SAN. Fibre Channel allows for an active intelligent interconnection scheme, called a fabric, to connect devices. In the context of a storage area network (SAN), the fabric typically refers to the detailed makeup of the network, such as cards and attached devices. The most common SAN fabrics include Fibre Channel switched, switched Small Computer System Interface (SCSI), and switched Serial Storage Architecture (SSA). Generally, SAN interconnects are connected to Fibre Channel switches. Switches allow many advantages in building centralized, centrally managed, and consolidated storage repositories shared across a number of applications. The switches furnish the backbone for all the connected devices, with one or more of the switches acting as a Fibre Channel switching fabric. SAN switch fabrics allow attachments of thousands of nodes. Although SAN fabrics are often mixed together, it should be remembered that they are really distinct elements of the SAN. Fibre Channel architecture offers several topologies for network design, primarily point-to-point, arbitrated loop, and switch. The ports in a point-to-point connection are called N_Ports, loop connections are called NL_Ports, and a Fibre Channel switch or network of switches is called a fabric. All are based on gigabit speeds, with effective 100 MBps throughput (200 MB full duplex). All allow for both copper and fiberoptic cable plant, with maximum distances appropriate to the media (30 m for copper, 500 m for short-wave laser over multimode fiber, 10 km for long-wave laser over single-mode fiber). Fibre Channel topologies are discussed in greater detail in 5, Fibre Channel, including a comparison chart listing the pros and cons of each topology.
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Understanding How a SAN Works
Understanding How a SAN Works
How Fibre Channel Works
Two serial cables, one carrying inbound data and the other carrying outbound data, make the basic connection to a Fibre Channel device. These cables can be fiberoptic or twin-axial copper. A Fibre Channel installation has a minimum of one link between two nodes. As mentioned earlier, the data flow between hardware entities called N_ports, generally part of the termination card, which contains hardware and software support for the Fibre Channel protocol. Each node must have at least one N_port and usually has two; either may serve as transmitter, receiver, or both. An N_port is assigned a unique address (the N_port identifier) and also contains a link control facility (LCF) that handles the logical and physical control of the link at the firmware level. Everything between the ports on Fibre Channel is called the fabric. The fabric is most often a switch or series of switches that takes the responsibility for routing. Ports on the fabric are called F_ports. All a Fibre Channel node has to do is manage a simple point-to-point connection between itself (N_port) and the fabric (F_port). NL_port and FL_port refer to an N_port and F_port, respectively, that can support arbitrated loop functions in addition to basic point-to-point functions. For a real appreciation of advancements that have been made regarding storage technology (the movement of data from servers to storage devices), a quick analysis of upgrade history in this area is required. Table 2-1 shows typical storage options that customers have used in the past. As with all data transport technologies of the past, the goal of achieving data transport from point A to point B with thorough speed, integrity, and efficiency is desired. When using SANs, all points A and B points are known as (A) the initiator (or host bus adapter) and (B) the target (or disk). (It is essential to note here that there are predefined rules that data sets must follow to arrive at their destinations in one piece.) For the sake of simplicity, let s reference a scenario where people are being transported by automobile. In our scenario, a father is dri-
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