SGI signalled the start back in February with its InfiniteStorage TP9700 4GB/sec array. But that was a mere trickle. Now the flood is starting as Brocade, Emulex, Engenio, LSI Logic and StorageTek pile into the market. These 4 GB/sec systems and components are twice as fast as the current 2 GB/sec systems and they're priced at not much more than 2 GB/sec equivalents say suppliers.

The catalyst has been the availability of 4GB/sec controllers and drive arrays from Engenio plus 4 GB/sec HBAs and switches from Emulex, LSI Logic and Brocade. That means storage systems vendors like StorageTek can start offering 4 GB/sec product groups with an end-to-end capability.

Charlie Kraus, director of the LSI Logic HBA business unit, said: "The pieces of the 4Gb ecosystem have come together."

"The technology is here, it's real, and it's been thoroughly tested for interoperability," said John Webster, a senior analyst and partner of the Data Mobility Group. "Companies will be able to significantly reduce the time it takes to move data off the storage system and to the server."

Where is 4 GB/sec needed today? Not everywhere but it will find a home wherever data access speed is paramount. That could mean: streaming video on demand; medical imaging; data mining and data warehousing; and large databases driven by online transaction processing. Over time, as general data volumes rise, enterprise customers generally will require 4 GB/sec as a mainstream Fibre Channel speed.

Here is a brief overview of recent product announcements:-

Engenio's 6998 controller has 4GB/sec bandwidth. It has broad O/S and host type support, is claimed to have 'extensive configuration flexibility' and offers replication services. It has eight 4 GB/sec host-side and eight 4 GB/sec drive-side ports, doubling the connectivity of its predecessor and providing more interfaces into a SAN and to the drives. So more data can come in and out.

LSI Logic
LSI Logic has expanded its 4GB/sec host bus adapter (HBA) family. The latest addition is the LSI7404EP-LC, a quad-port PCI-Express x8 HBA. (PCI Express is the next-generation serial based I/O host-interconnect that removes any I/O bus-based bottleneck from server systems.) LSI Logic already has single-port and dual-port HBAs. The 4Gb/s HBAs support the T10 committee's new end-to-end error detection (CRC) for improved data integrity when reading and writing disks.

Brocade's Silkworm 4100 is a 4GB/sec SAN switch with a 'pay as you grow' ports on demand facility to make purchase more affordable. It comes with either 16, 24 or 32 ports and has redundant and hot-swappable power supplies and cooling fans; hot-swappable SFP media; hot code loading and activation; and security, fabric management, and ease-of-use features. Each of the 32 ports is auto-sensing for data link speeds of 1, 2, or 4 GB/sec, providing compatibility with existing 1 and 2 GB/sec links.

Emulex has demonstrated its 4Gb/s PCI Express HBA at Storage Networking World. The company also showed booth attendess its Enterprise AutoPilot Installer management wizard.

StorageTek has announced its first 4GB/sec Fibre Channel drive array. The FLX380 has dual-active, intelligent RAID controllers, eight 4 GB/sec host connections and supports up to 224 FC or SATA disk drives. The SANtricity software suite controls the FLX380 and provides the management interface. It complements the existing 2GB/sec FlexLine 200 and 300 Series arrays. The FLX380 has three times the number of I/Os per second and twice the throughput of the existing FLX280.

The FLX380 will be available within a month and cost around $100,000 - about £55,000 at current conversion rates- for a 900GB capacity array. A 900GB FLX280 costs about $85,000 - about £47,000. StorageTek will gradually convert all its drive array products to 4GB/sec.

Both the SGI and StorageTek 4GB/sec arrays are based on Engenio's 6998 controller technology. At this point in time SGI and StorageTek have the fastest drive arrays on the market, faster than anything from EMC, HDS, HP or IBM.

Should you buy product yet?
The suppliers' calculations in bringing 4GB/sec products to market is based on a near price equivalence with existing 2GB/sec products. Randy Kearns, a senior partner at the Evaluator Group, explains the thinking: "Four GB/sec FC offers double the per-port throughput of current 2 Gb/s hardware, at the same price. ... If you offer a customer a 4 GB/sec FC SAN solution with disk arrays and switches, and everything else is equal, they'll buy the 4 GB/sec FC with the knowledge that the performance improvements are there to be used when needed."