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The creation of high speed storage area networks is a step closer this week with the introduction of the Network Array 5000 by Sun Microsystems Inc, the company’s first Fibre Channel Arbitrated Loop-enabled storage subsystem. The array, known as Photon while it was under development (CI No 3,138) will provide storage for a cost of around $0.50 per megabyte, the same price as the company’s existing Fibre Channel SparcStorage, which it replaces. FC-AL is the second generation of the high-speed disk access mechanism backed by Sun, Hewlett-Packard Co, and even IBM Corp, despite its rival SSA serial storage architecture, which now looks destined to be confined to mainframes. Using optical connections, Fibre Channel can transfer large volumes of data more quickly, and over greater distances, than existing SCSI disk access technology. FC-AL adds support for redundant data paths, hot-pluggable components, multiple host connections, and dual- ported drives, and instead of single bi-directional links between a server and a storage sub-system, enables up to 127 different devices to be connected in a star network configuration beginning and ending at the server. Devices can be up to 10km apart. Sun’s first Photon model ships this quarter with up to 14 9.1Gb drives from Seagate Technology Inc. Four devices can be connected in a loop for a total of 500Gb storage. Sun says FC-AL hubs and switches, which will enable complex arrangements of servers, storage and network devices, will come onto the market by the middle of next year, and Sun will OEM products from one of the two companies it’s working with in that area. The most likely candidate is thought to be Brocade Communications Systems Inc. Products focused on non-Sun environment will follow later.

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