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Fibre Channel Protocol

Fibre Channel (FC) is a high-speed data transmission technology that is primarily used
to connect hosts to block storage systems over a storage area network (SAN). The T11
Technical Committee of the InterNational Committee for Information Technology
Standards (INCITS) specifies the FC standard. INCITS is a Standards Development
Organization accredited to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

FC is a full-duplex, serial communication technology that operates over both optical

fiber and copper cables, with support for distances up to 10 km. Common FC
transmission rates are 2 Gb/s, 4 Gb/s, and 8 Gb/s, with the latest variant (16GFC)
supporting a transmission rate of up to 16 Gb/s. A Fibre Channel SAN uses the Fibre
Channel Protocol (FCP) for host-storage connectivity. FCP has five layers – FC-0, FC-
1, FC-2, FC-3, and FC-4.

The FC-0 layer defines the physical interface of the FC connection. It defines the
characteristics of the physical interface and transmission media. The FC-1 layer defines
the transmission protocol including data encoding and decoding rules, and error control.
The FC-2 layer defines the rules for signaling and data transfer. It defines the framing
and flow control rules, and also defines various classes of services. The FC-3 layer is
not implemented and is intended to provide services for enabling advanced features.
The FC-4 layer defines the application interfaces that can execute over Fibre Channel.
It specifies the mapping rules of upper layer protocols, such as SCSI, IP, High
Performance Parallel Interface (HIPPI) Framing Protocol, and Intelligent Peripheral
Interface (IPI) that use the lower FC layers.
FC Data Format
The basic data units transmitted over an FC connection are called “frames”. An FC
frame contains the information to be transmitted (payload). Typically, it is SCSI data
from the host that is encapsulated in the FC frame. The frame also has additional
information in its header that is required for routing the frame from a source N-Port to
the destination N_Port over the FC SAN fabric. The FC-2 layer is responsible for
splitting data into frames at the source and reassembling frames at the destination.

A set of one or more contiguous FC frames transmitted from one N_Port to another is
called a “sequence”. Each frame in a sequence is identified by a unique number called
the Sequence Count, which is part of the frame header. A set of one or more sequences
in an FC SAN is called an “exchange”.

FC Addressing
Each device, such as an FC HBA and an FC switch in an FC SAN is uniquely identified
by a 64-bit World Wide Name (WWN). A WWN may be used as a World Wide Node
Name (WWNN) to identify an FC HBA or an FC switch. A WWN may also be used as a
World Wide Port Name (WWPN) to identify a port on an FC HBA or an FC switch. For
example, a switch would have a WWNN, and each port would have a WWPN. A WWN
is a static identifier for each FC device, and is burned into the device. It includes the
vendor ID of the manufacturer and the company ID of the organization that purchased
the device.

In addition to WWN, a port addressing scheme is also used in an FC SAN for routing.
Each FC switch port in a fabric is identified by a unique 24-bit address that is assigned
dynamically. The address includes a Domain ID, an Area ID, and a Port ID, each of 8
bits in length.

The Domain ID is the address that uniquely identifies an FC switch in the fabric. There
can be 256 possible addresses. However, some addresses are reserved and only 239
addresses are available. Therefore, it is theoretically possible to have up to 239
switches in an FC SAN.

The Area ID is the address that identifies a group of switch ports. Therefore, multiple
switch ports share an Area ID. This field provides up to 256 addresses.

The Port ID uniquely identifies a switch port within a group (Area). This field also
provides up to 256 addresses.

IP SAN Protocols
An IP SAN facilitates host connectivity to block storage systems over a local area
network (LAN), a wide area network (WAN), or the Internet. There are several
advantages for enterprises in using IP networks for hosts-storage connectivity. Most
enterprises would have a Gigabit Ethernet infrastructure that can be used for SAN
connectivity. This is a more cost-effective option than building an FC SAN, and the
traditional skills of IP networking staff can be applied to IP SANs. IP networks provide
security, scalability, and interoperability. iSCSI and FCIP are two IP SAN protocols.

iSCSI Protocol
The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) ratified the Internet Small Computer
Systems Interface (iSCSI) protocol as a standard. The iSCSI protocol is a transport
layer protocol used in IP SANs. This network may be dedicated for storage networking
or an Ethernet infrastructure that is shared with other applications. iSCSI encapsulates
SCSI data and commands to be transmitted over IP networks.

There are two types of devices in the SCSI protocol – the SCSI initiators and the
targets. The initiators are the devices that send requests for the execution of
commands. Targets are the devices that execute the commands. The structure that is
used to send a command from an initiator to a target is called as a Command Descriptor
Block (CDB). The endpoint, within the target, on which the command is executed is
called as a “logical unit”. A target is a collection of logical units that are directly

The execution of a SCSI command results in an optional data phase and a status
phase. In the data phase, data may either travel from the initiator to the target (data
write operation) or it may travel from the target to the initiator (data read operation). In
the status phase, the target returns the final status of the operation. This response
terminates the SCSI command.

In an iSCSI SAN environment, application hosts are the initiators, and storage systems
are the targets. LUNs in the storage systems are the logical units. The SCSI driver on
the host builds SCSI CDBs from the requests issued by an application, and forwards
them to the iSCSI layer. The SCSI driver also receives CDBs from the iSCSI layer and
forwards data to the application.

iSCSI Protocol Stack

The figure below depicts the iSCSI protocol stack.

When an application (host) wants to access a LUN, the following sequence of
operations is performed at the initiator:

1. The SCSI layer generates a CDB and forwards it to the iSCSI layer.

2. The iSCSI layer encapsulates the CDB in an iSCSI protocol data unit (PDU) and forwards it to
the TCP/IP layers.

3. The TCP layer encapsulates the iSCSI PDU in a TCP packet and the IP layer then encapsulates
this packet in an IP packet.

4. The packet is forwarded to the link layer and is encapsulated in a physical layer frame and
transmitted over the network.

The reverse process takes place at the target. The SCSI CDB is extracted from the
incoming packet and forwarded to the target LUN.

iSCSI Addressing
The iSCSI protocol enables both naming and addressing of initiators and targets. Each
device has a unique iSCSI name as well as a dynamic address.

The iSCSI name is a logical name that is not linked to an IP address, and identifies an
iSCSI device regardless of its physical location. The iSCSI name may be in the IQN
format, the EUI format, or the NAA format.

iSCSI qualified name (IQN) is a unique identifier that can be up to 255 characters long.
It has the format: “iqn.yyyy-mm.naming-authority:unique-device-name”.

The “yyyy-mm” field is the year and month when the “naming authority” acquired their
domain name.

The “naming-authority” field is usually in the reverse domain name format of the
entity responsible for naming the device. An example reverse domain name is

The “unique-name” field is any name you want to use to name an initiator or target.
The naming authority must ensure that any names assigned following the colon are
unique. An example of an IQN of a target is: iqn.1992-

Extended unique identifier (EUI) is unique identifier that follows the EUI-64 standard.
A vendor or manufacturer uses the EUI-64 formatted worldwide unique names for their
products. The EUI includes the “eui.” prefix followed by a name that is 64 bits long (16
hexadecimal characters). It has the format: eui.nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn. For
example, eui.0123456789abcdef.

40 bits of the EUI are used for a unique ID for the device. The EUI also includes a 24-bit
Organizationally Unique Identifier (OUI) that uniquely identifies a manufacturer or
vendor globally. It is assigned by the IEEE Registration Authority.

T11 Network Address Authority (NAA) is another naming convention used for iSCSI
devices. It is defined by the InterNational Committee for Information Technology
Standards (INCITS) for compatibility with the naming conventions used in Fibre Channel
and Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) storage technologies.

The NAA includes the “naa.” prefix followed by a name that is up to 128 bits long (32
hexadecimal characters). For example, naa.0123456789abcdef. The NAA also
includes the OUI of the vendor or manufacturer.

Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP) is technology for connecting Fibre Channel SANs. FCIP is
a tunneling mechanism that allows FC information to be tunneled across an IP link. In
FCIP, FC frames are encapsulated in IP packets and transported over an IP network.
FCIP allows geographically distributed SAN islands to be transparently interconnected
as shown in the figure below. When two SAN islands are connected using FCIP, the
result is a merged FC fabric giving a single FC SAN environment. FCIP is typically used
for remote backup and replication.

The figure below depicts the FCIP protocol stack.

Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)
Most enterprises deploy multiple networks in their data centers for separate purposes.
The networks typically include Ethernet and FC SAN. Ethernet provides a cost-effective
and efficient way to support use cases such as corporate LAN, VOIP, NAS storage, and
iSCSI storage. An FC SAN provides hosts with block access to storage systems for
high-performance and data-intensive applications.

Ethernet and FC SANs each fill an essential role in the data center, but they are
different in design and functionality. The two networks have their own security
constraints and traffic patterns and utilize separate management toolsets. As a result,
each network must be built and maintained on its own dedicated, isolated infrastructure,
requiring separate cabling and network interfaces on each server.

Managing two separate networks for data and storage adds complexity and costs to the
data center. Enterprises therefore seek to converge their LAN and SAN networks to
enable the data center to run more efficiently and cost-effectively, while preserving their
investment in the FC infrastructure.

Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) is a networking technology that enables

transporting LAN and FC SAN traffic on a single, unified Ethernet cable. The converged
FCoE network supports LAN and SAN data types, reducing equipment and cabling in
the data center. It also lowers the power and cooling load associated with that
equipment. There are also fewer support points when converging to a unified network,
which helps reduce the management burden.

FCoE is enabled by an enhanced 10 Gb Ethernet (10GbE) standard referred to as Data

Center Bridging (DCB) or Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE). Tunneling protocols,
such as FCIP, use IP to transmit FC traffic over long distances. However, FCoE is a
Layer-2 encapsulation protocol that uses Ethernet physical transport to transmit FC

The move to 10GbE is being fueled largely by server virtualization adoption, which
demands the presence of high-performance Ethernet I/O connections. Sharing the
same Ethernet network fabric—from server to switch to storage—removes the
requirement of a dedicated storage area network. This helps in reducing the total cost of
ownership (TCO) by preserving existing infrastructure investments and maintaining
backward compatibility with familiar IT procedures and processes.

FCoE SAN Components

The main components in an FCoE SAN are:
 Converged network adapters (CNAs): CNAs combine the functionality of Ethernet network
interface cards (NICs) and Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs) in an FCoE environment.
This enables reducing the number of server adapters that enterprises require, reduces port count,
and eliminates cabling issues.

 FCoE cables: There are two options for FCoE cables – optical fiber cables and twinax copper
cables. FCoE twinax cables require less power and are less expensive. However, their distance is
limited to less than 10 meters.

 FCoE switches: FCoE switches are required for connecting servers to storage arrays using
FCoE. Therefore, enterprises must deploy FCoE switches that support FCoE/Data Center
Bridging and connect servers to corporate LANs, SANs, or FCoE storage systems.

 FCoE storage systems: These are storage systems that support FCoE and converged traffic
natively. There are also storage systems that support Fibre Channel to an FCoE switch and FCoE
from the switch to the host servers.

FCoE Protocol
The T11 Technical Committee of the InterNational Committee for Information
Technology Standards (INCITS) specifies the FCoE standard. The figure below depicts
the FCoE protocol stack.
FCoE encapsulates FC frames in Ethernet frames and transmits them over an FCoE
network made of FCoE switches. This allows enterprises to use a Gigabit Ethernet
network for host-storage connectivity in addition to using the network for Ethernet

The figure below depicts an Ethernet frame carrying an FC payload.

The following figure shows a comparison of the various SAN protocols that we covered
this week.

Snapshot Technology Overview

Several data storage vendors implement snapshot copies for backup and replication. A
snapshot copy is a point-in-time file system image. For this discussion, we consider a
storage operating system that uses pointers to the actual data blocks on disk, but does not rewrite
existing blocks. Rather it writes updated data to a new block and changes the pointer.

A snapshot simply manipulates block pointers, creating a “frozen” read-only view of a

storage volume that lets applications access older versions of files, directory
hierarchies, and/or LUNs (logical unit numbers) without special programming. Because
actual data blocks are not copied, snapshots are extremely efficient both in the time
needed to create them and in storage space.

A snapshot takes a few seconds to create, regardless of the size of the volume or the
level of activity on the storage system. After a snapshot has been created, changes to
data objects are reflected in updates to the current version of the objects, as if snapshot
copies did not exist. Meanwhile, the snapshot copy of the data remains completely
stable. A snapshot copy incurs no performance overhead; users can comfortably store a
number of snapshot copies per storage volume, all of which are accessible as read-only
and online versions of the data. Snapshot technology forms the basis of high-
availability, disaster-tolerant, and data protection solutions.

The figure below depicts how snapshots work.

A file has blocks A, B, and C, and its snapshot is taken in Figure 1. In Figure 2, block B
is changes by a user to B1. The changed data (B1) is written to a new block and the file
pointer is updated. However, the snapshot pointer still points to the old block, giving a
live view of the data and an historical view. In Figure 3, another snapshot is taken that
reflects the live view of data. Now a user has access to three generations of data – the
live one, Snapshot 2, and Snapshot 1, in order of age. This is without taking up the disk
space that the three unique copies would require.

System administrators use snapshot copies to take and maintain frequent, low-impact, user-
recoverable copies of files, directory hierarchies, LUNs, and/or application data. Snapshots incur
minimal performance overhead and can be safely created on a running system. Snapshots allow
near-instantaneous, secure, user-managed restores. Users can directly access snapshot copies to
recover from accidental deletion, corruption, or modification of their data. Since the security of
the file is retained in the snapshot copy, the restoration is both secure and simple.