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With the spectacular performance

improvements in desktop computers,
workstations, and mass storage the distance over which the data is Fibre Channel for enterprise-level net-
devices during the 1990s (as well as being sent. working are:
the move toward distributed client/ ■ The interconnect should allow more
server architectures) much attention mass storage devices to be intercon- ■ a protocol stack that provide confirmed
has been focused on reliable, high- nected than existing multidrop mass delivery
performance data communication storage channels. ■ the option of bypassing the protocol
between computers and between com- ■ The interconnect should employ stack for increased performance
puters and mass storage devices. Fibre standard components. ■ complete support for traditional net-
Channel (a highly reliable, gigabit- ■ The interconnect should allow for work self-discovery, including full
per-second interconnection technol- cost/performance trade-offs, to make it support of ARP, RARP, and other
ogy) uses standard mass storage and practical for use in a wide range of sys- self-discovery protocols
networking protocols to provide con- tems, from small desktop or embedded ■ support for point-to-point circuits,
current communication among work- systems to supercomputers. shared bandwidth loop circuits, or scal-
stations, mainframes, servers, data ■ The interconnect should be able to able bandwidth switched circuits
storage systems, and other peripher- carry the command sets of the proto- ■ true circuit connections (or fractional
als. It supports multiple topologies cols that are already in widespread use, bandwidth connection-oriented virtual
that can scale up to a total system including Internet Protocol (IP), SCSI, circuits) that provide a guaranteed
bandwidth on the order of a terabit per IPI, HiPPI-FP, and audio/video. bandwidth for critical backups, or for
second. Off-the-shelf Fibre Channel other operations
products that are available today The resulting Fibre Channel specification ■ the option of real circuits or virtual
include switches, hubs, storage sub- (ANSI X3.230-1994) describes an inter- circuits
systems, storage devices, and adapters. connection technology that can be used as ■ very fast circuit setup time (measured
However, wading through the entire either a mass storage channel or as a net- in microseconds) using hardware
Fibre Channel standards documenta- work: enhanced Fibre Channel protocols
tion can be a daunting task. This brief ■ extremely low-latency connection and
tutorial provides a readable overview ■ It has network features that provide the connectionless service
of the Fibre Channel standard. While required connectivity, distance, and ■ automatic node configuration, regard-
it won’t make you an expert, it protocol multiplexing. less of the Fibre Channel topology
provides a good starting point. ■ It supports traditional mass storage ■ full support for time synchronous
channel features with its simplicity, applications (such as video) using frac-
reliability, repeatable performance, and tional bandwidth virtual circuits
Most workstations are equipped with guaranteed delivery. ■ a choice of high-bandwidth or low-
separate ports for: latency transfers, using variable length
In doing so, it performs the functions of (0-2 Kbyte) frames. Very low latency
■ exchanging data with mass storage both a storage area network and a high- can be provided with frames of less
devices speed local area network. than 100 bytes, while very high band-
■ exchanging data with other work- width can be provided for transferring
stations and servers over a local area Storage Area Networks (SANs): bulk data with the maximum frame size
network Storage area networks (SANs) are used to
link one or more servers to one or more The physical and signaling layer
In the 1980s some companies decided that mass storage systems. Each mass storage Fibre Channel is structured with inde-
there should be a data communications system might be: pendent layers. The five layers of Fibre
standard that would allow mass storage Channel (shown in Figure 1) define:
systems and local area network nodes to ■ a RAID
transfer data over the same fibre. (Note: ■ a tape backup ■ the physical media and transmission
The term “fibre” as used here is intended ■ a tape library rates
to be a generic term, and is used to des- ■ a CD-ROM library ■ the encoding scheme
cribe either an optical or a copper cable.) ■ JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) ■ the framing protocol and flow control
The members of this group started with ■ the common services
the following set of requirements: Servers and workstations can use the Fibre ■ the upper-layer protocol interfaces
Channel interconnect for shared access to
■ The interconnect should be able to the same mass storage device. Legacy The Fibre Channel
transfer data at rates from 133 Mbits/ SCSI systems are interfaced to the SAN physical standard
sec to 4 Gbits/sec, with corresponding through a Fibre-Channel-to-SCSI bridge. The Fibre Channel physical standard (FC-
cost trade-offs. PH) completed its first public review in
■ The interconnect should support data Networks January 1993, the second review began in
transfers over distances up to 10 km. Fibre Channel was developed to support October 1993, and the standard was
■ The interconnect should employ com- IT applications at the enterprise level, and approved in November 1994. It defines
pact connectors. its designers focused on removing the per- the lower three layers:
■ The interconnect should provide high- formance barriers of legacy LANs, such
bandwidth utilization, regardless of as Ethernet. Among the advantages of ■ FC-0 (The physical interface and media)

Copyright 2000 / All rights reserved Reprinted from VMEbus Systems / March-April 2000 / 1
FIBRE CHANNEL: include the serializer/deserializer
(SERDES) function and present a 20-
protocol. FC-2 defines a data transport
mechanism that is independent of upper
A TUTORIAL bit parallel interface to the Fibre layer protocols. FC-2 is self-configuring
Channel encoding and control logic. and supports point-to-point, arbitrated
GLMs are primarily used to allow fac- loop, and switched environments.
■ FC-l (The transmission protocol) tory configurability, but they also
■ FC-2 (The framing and signaling allow field exchanges or upgrades by An N_Port is a port on a node, such as:
protocol) users.
■ Gigabit Interface Converters (GBICs) ■ a server
Physical interface and media: FC-0 provide a serial interface to the ■ a workstation
FC-0 is the lowest level. It specifies the SERDES function. GBICs can be hot ■ a peripheral
physical link of the channel. Fibre inserted or removed from installed
Channel operates over various physical Fibre Channel nodes. These are partic- If a port is inserted to a loop it becomes an
media and data rates. Fibre Channel’s ularly useful in multiple-port devices NL_Port. Data communications are per-
approach ensures maximum flexibility, (such as switches and hubs) where sin- formed over a Fibre Channel link by the
allowing existing cable installations (as gle ports may need to be reconfigured interconnected ports. Each node includes
well as a variety of new cable technolo- without interrupting the operation an ASIC with an embedded Fibre Channel
gies) to be used. other ports. Link Control Facility, which handles the
logical and physical control of the link,
Multimedia Channels Networks
and provides a logical interface to the rest
of the system.
FC-4 Audio Video IPI SCSI HiPPI SBCCS IP 802.2
Each port contains a transmitter and a
Common Services receiver and can act as:

Framing protocol / Flow control ■ an Originator

■ a Responder
FC-1 Encode / Decode ■ both an Originator and a Responder

10/20 bit media independent interface Serializer / Deserializer Fibre Channel implementation
Serializer / Deserializer Serial media independent interface nomenclature
(100-TW-S-EL and 100-M5-I-SL are the
Multimode fiber – Single mode fiber – Copper most common implementations)
FC-0 133 266 531 1.06 2.12 4.25
Mbits/sec Mbits/sec Mbits/sec Gbits/sec Gbits/sec Gbits/sec
400 400 Mbytes/sec
FC-PH 200 200 Mbytes/sec
100 100 Mbytes/sec
Figure 1 50 50 Mbytes/sec
25 25 Mbytes/sec
As an example, with Fibre Channel, a sin- ■ Media interface Adapters (MIAs) 12.5 12.5 Mbytes/sec
gle-mode fibre can enter a building, a mul- allow users to interface copper DB-9
timode fibre can be used for the distribu- connectors to multimode fibre optics. Media:
tion inside, and copper drops can be used The power to support the optical trans- SM Single Mode Fiber
to connect to individual workstations. ceivers is supplied by pins defined in M5 50/125 Multimode Fiber
the DB-9 interface. M6 62.5/125 Multimode Fiber
For short distances, Fibre Channel uses MI Miniature Cable — Copper
twinax copper connections. 100 Mbytes/ Transmission protocol: FC-1 TV Video Cable — Copper
sec of effective transfer rate is possible The superior transmission characteristics TP Twisted Pair — Copper
with a line speed of 1.0625 Gbaud. of a DC-balanced 8B/10B code scheme TW Twinax — Copper
Copper connections are typically made are used by FC-1 for clock recovery, byte
through standard DB-9 connectors, or the synchronization, and encode/decode. In Distance:
more recently developed HSSDC con- this scheme, eight data bits (one byte) are L Long: >2 km
nectors. transmitted as a 10-bit group. This well- I Intermediate: 100 m to 2 km
balanced code (developed by IBM) allows S Short: <l00 m
Fibre optic connections (with effective for low-cost component design and pro-
transfer rates of 2.125 and 4.25 Gbaud) vides good transition density for easier Transmitter:
have also been approved. The fibre optic clock recovery. A unique special character LL Long Wave Laser
connections are typically made with dual (called a comma character) ensures proper (1300 to 1550 nm)
SC connectors. byte and word alignment. Other advan- SL Short Wave Laser
tages of this code are its error detection (780 to 850 nm)
Fibre Channel products may be equipped capability and a simple logic implementa- SN Short Wave Laser
with a copper or a fibre optic interface, or tion for both the encoder and the decoder. (780 to 850 nm, without
they may have a media independent inter- Open Fibre Control)
face. Three media independent interfaces Framing and signaling LE Long Wave LED
have been defined. protocol: FC-2 (1300 to 1550 nm)
Reliable communications result from Fibre EL Electrical
■ Gigabaud Link Modules (GLMs) Channel’s FC-2 Framing and Signaling

2 / VMEbus Systems / March-April 2000 Copyright 2000 / All rights reserved

Each port is given a unique name, called ■ A variable-length payload, containing The Exchange
an N_Port or NL_Port Identifier. Full data from the upper protocol layers An Exchange is composed of one or more
duplex data flows between data ports. ■ A 4-byte CRC (for error detection) nonconcurrent Sequences for a single
■ A 4-byte end-of-frame delimiter operation. For example, an operation may
In addition to defining the framing struc- consist of several transfers, including:
ture, FC-2 provides a rich set of functions. Each frame (or group of frames) is
These functions include: acknowledged as part of the flow control ■ a command to read some data
scheme. “Busy” and “Reject” messages ■ the transfer of the data
■ a robust 32-bit CRC (cyclic redun- are also defined to provide notification of ■ the completion status of the operation
dancy check) that detects transmission nondelivery of a frame.
errors, to ensure data integrity Each transfer (command, data, and status)
■ constructs to support efficient multi- The Sequence is accomplished with a separate Sequence.
plexing of operations Fibre Channel places no upper limit on the However, they form a single Exchange.
■ a flow control scheme that also size of data transfers between applications.
ensures guaranteed delivery (Flow In LANs, the software must be aware of Within a single Exchange, only a single
control is buffer-to-buffer and/or the maximum frame size (or packet size) Sequence may be flowing at any given
node-to-node for connectionless ser- that can be transmitted. However, frame time, although Sequences for different
vice, and node-to-node for connec- sizes are hidden to application software Exchanges might be concurrently in
tion-based service.) when using Fibre Channel. progress. This is one form of multiplex-
■ a set of generic functions that ing supported by Fibre Channel. The
are useful to various upper-layer An upper-layer data structure (called Exchange is uniquely identified by each
protocols. a Sequence) is the unit of data transfer participating N_Port.
■ built-in protocols that help manage for the application programmer. This
the operation of the link, control the Sequence is segmented and then sent over An Originator Exchange ID is assigned, in
Fibre Channel configuration, perform the Fibre Channel as an ordered set of one an implementation-dependent manner,
error recovery, and recover link and or more frames. by the originating N_Port (the initiator
port status information of the first Sequence), and a Responder
■ optional headers that may be used for It is the FC-2 layer’s responsibility to break Exchange ID is assigned, in an implemen-
network routing a Sequence into frames that match the size tation-dependent manner, by the respond-
■ control information in the header to that has been negotiated between the com- ing N_Port (the recipient of the first
assist hardware routing municating ports, and between the ports Sequence). The Exchange IDs are con-
■ processes that provide for segmenta- and the fabric. Thus a single Sequence of tained within the frame header and are
tion and re-assembly of data data generated by an upper-layer might used locally by the N_Ports to manage the
disassembled into multiple frames. Each Exchange.
Data groupings Sequence is uniquely identified by the ini-
To aid in the transport of data (from higher tiator with a Sequence Identifier field in the The upper protocol layers
layers) across the Fibre Channel network, frame header. Additionally, each frame The Fibre Channel physical standard
the FC-2 layer defines a hierarchy of data within the Sequence is uniquely numbered defines a transport service that is designed
groupings. These include: with a Sequence Count. to move data reliably and fast, with the
scalability needed to meet virtually any
■ The Ordered set The Sequence is also the recovery bound- application requirement. There are also
■ The Frame ary in Fibre Channel. When an error is two protocol layers above the physical
■ The Sequence detected, the FC-2 protocol determines standard layers:
■ The Exchange which Sequence contains the error and
then causes that Sequence (and any subse- ■ the Common Transport for Generic
The Ordered set quent Sequences) to be retransmitted. Services (FC-3)
An ordered set consists of four 10-bit ■ the Upper Layer Protocol mapping
characters – a combination of data charac- (FC-4)
ters and special characters that are used to 4-byte 2112-byte payload 4-byte 4-byte
provide certain very low-level link func- start 24-byte
64-byte CRC end These higher protocol layers enhance the
of optional 2048-byte payload error of
tions, such as frame demarcation and sig- frame header check frame functionality of the Fibre Channel link,
naling between the two ends of a link. and provide for interoperability.
This signaling provides for initialization
of the link after power-on, and for certain S
E General Services
basic recovery actions. Frame
Q X FC-3 provides servers that are accessible
to all N_Ports. Servers that are currently
The Frame Frame
E C defined include:
A frame is the smallest indivisible packet of N

data that is sent over the link. The frame Frame

H ■ the Name Server
structure is shown in Figure 2. Addressing ■ the Alias Server
is done within the frame header. Frames are Frame
S A ■ the Management Services
not visible to the upper-layer protocols and Frame Q N ■ the Key Server
consist of the following fields: U
G The Name Server
■ A 4-byte start-of-frame delimiter C The Name Server maintains a directory of
■ A 24-byte frame header (defined Frame E E N_Ports within a fabric, and a database
by FC-2) that includes such items as ID, worldwide
■ An optional 64-byte (defined by FC-2) Figure 2 name, and the supported FC-4 protocols

Copyright 2000 / All rights reserved Reprinted from VMEbus Systems / March-April 2000 / 3
FIBRE CHANNEL: Note: Proprietary protocols are also pos-
sible, and are permitted by the Fibre
cating nodes is taken into account, and
the appropriate media and the components
A TUTORIAL Channel standard. needed to provide the quality of service
are chosen.
FC-4 maps these higher-layer protocols to
for each N_Port. Any N_Port may query the FC-PH physical and signaling layers Loop and hub topologies
the Name Server at any time to discover below them. The physical and signaling A Fibre Channel loop topology can inter-
other N_Ports attached to the fabric. protocols are implemented in hardware, connect up to 127 ports. Loop topologies
providing faster throughput. Typically, provide resilient interconnection through
The Alias Server channel protocols follow the command/ their use of port bypass circuits. These
The Alias Server is used to assign alias data/status paradigm described earlier. Each bypass circuits are installed either into the
IDs to multicast groups and to hunt of these information categories has different backplane of a disk enclosure, or into an
groups. A multicast frame is delivered to attributes and requires separate processing. external device called a hub.
all of the N_Ports that have been assigned However, all three categories of info are
to the alias ID for the multicast group. handled by the same hardware-imple- The bypass circuit automatically detects
mented protocol. Fibre Channel’s hardware the presence of an active node and inserts
A hunt group is a set of N_Ports that all implementation eliminates the need to it into the loop. Similarly, it detects a node
provide Fibre Channel interfaces to a sin- expend compute cycles on I/O processing, that has failed or has been powered off and
gle node. The Alias Server assigns an alias thus making servers, workstations, and removes it from the loop. This is accom-
ID to the entire set. This allows any mass storage systems much more efficient. plished automatically, without any manual
frames that contain this alias ID to be intervention.
routed to any available (non-busy) N_Port Fibre channel topologies
within the set. This improves efficiency by Fibre Channel connects nodes using three Classes of service
decreasing the chance of encountering a physical topologies. These topologies Fibre Channel switches and nodes can be
busy N_Port. include: designed to support five different Classes
of Service:
Management Services ■ Point-to-point topologies
Management services are provided for ■ Loop topologies ■ Class 1 — Acknowledged
management applications to have access ■ Switched topologies Connection Service
to the entire fabric, its internal topology, ■ Class 2 — Acknowledged
and its configuration. Management appli- Loop topologies Connectionless Service
cations may, for example, specify which Loops connected to the enterprise-level ■ Class 3 — Unacknowledged
N_Ports are allowed to access each other. network through a switch are called public Connectionless Service
Other services allow the management loops. A free-standing loop is called a ■ Class 4 — Fractional Bandwidth
application to discover how the fabric private loop. Hubs are normally used to Connection-Oriented Service
is interconnected. Authentication is connect nodes into a loop topology. ■ Class 6 — Unidirectional
provided to ensure that the correct man- Connection Service
agement application is configuring the Switch topologies
fabric. The primary function of a switch is to Class 1: Acknowledged
receive frames from a source node and connection service
Key Server route them to the destination node. Each Class 1 provides a true connection-based
The Key Server provides a standard node has a unique Fibre Channel address, service. The result is a full-bandwidth, cir-
method for distribution of authentication which is used to route the frame. The cuit-switched connection. Fibre Channel
keys and encryption keys. For example, a switch hides from the nodes: can setup (or tear down) such a connection
management application that wishes to in microseconds.
access management services could query ■ the network topology
the Key Server for the necessary authenti- ■ the routing path selection within the An end-to-end path between the commu-
cation key. switching fabric nicating nodes is established through the
■ the internal structure of the fabric, switch. Since the only overhead for Class
The ULP mapping layer (FC-4) which might consist of multiple inter- 1 is connection setup and tear-down, it is
Data can be concurrently transported over connected switches an efficient Class of Service for large data
the same physical interface using several exchanges.
different protocols. The following proto- Each node only has to manage a simple
cols have been specified (or proposed) as point-to-point connection between itself Class 1 service provides an acknowl-
FC-4s: and the switch. A node simply does the edgment of receipt, for guaranteed deliv-
equivalent of dialing a phone number by ery. Some applications (such as mass
■ Small Computer System Interface inserting an ID number for the destination storage backup and recovery) use Fibre
(SCSI) node into the header of the frame, which Channel’s guaranteed delivery feature
■ Internet Protocol (IP) precedes the payload data. If that ID num- to move data reliably and quickly with-
■ High Performance Parallel Interface ber is invalid, the switch rejects it. If for out the overhead of a network protocol
(HiPPI) Framing Protocol some reason the switch cannot process the stack.
■ Single Byte Command Code Set data, it responds with a “Busy” signal, and
Mapping (SBCCS) to implement the node tries again. Camp on is a Class 1 feature that enables
ESCON and block multiplex inter- a switch to monitor a busy port and queue
faces A switch accepts the responsibility for that port for the next connection. As soon
■ Audio Video Fast File Transfer routing frames according to the class as the port becomes free the switch
■ Real-time, embedded avionics of service selected by the initiating node. makes the connection. This shortens
■ Virtual Interface (VI) The distance between the communi- connection times because there is no need

4 / VMEbus Systems / March-April 2000 Copyright 2000 / All rights reserved

to send a “Busy” back to the originating own confirmation of receipt, and rely to-point connections between pairs of
N_Port, forcing the N_Port to retry the on Fibre Channel's own reliable data nodes in a collection of nodes.
connection. delivery.
In either case the two N_Ports have 100%
Stacked Connect is a Class 1 feature that Class 4: Fractional bandwidth use of the bandwidth. The communication
enables an originating N_Port to queue acknowledged connection- is full-duplex. Therefore, a 1-Gbit trans-
multiple connection requests with a oriented service mit and receive link is actually providing a
switch. Again, this feature reduces over- Class 4 is a fractional bandwidth, connec- total of 2 Gbits/sec of dedicated band-
head, and makes the switching service tion-oriented service. Virtual connections width.
more efficient. are established with bandwidth reserva-
tion for a predictable quality of service. A Loop shared-bandwidth topology
Class 1 also has a variation called buffered node may reserve up to 256 concurrent A Fibre Channel loop provides a low-cost
service, which is used to connect two Class 4 connections. solution that allows multiple nodes to
Fibre Channel ports that are operating at share the 1-Gbit bandwidth. Nodes share
different speeds. A Class 4 connection is bidirectional, with access to the loop, but a pair of nodes have
one virtual circuit in each direction, and it full use of the 1-Gbit bandwidth once they
Another form of Class 1 connection can support a different set of quality of ser- have established a logical point-to-point
is called Dedicated Simplex Service. vice parameters for each of these two vir- connection. A loop may include as many
Normally, Class 1 connections are bidi- tual circuits. Quality of service parameters as 127 nodes. However, only one of these
rectional. However, in this case, commu- include guaranteed bandwidth and nodes may be a switch port. Loops are
nication is in one direction only. This bounded end-to-end delay. A quality of ser- used for networks, and are the replace-
decouples the transmit and receive switch- vice facilitator function within the switch ment for SCSI in next-generation disks.
ing, permitting a node to transfer data to a manages and maintains the negotiated
second node while simultaneously receiv- quality of service on each virtual circuit. A Node requests control of the loop by
ing data from a third node. sending a Fibre Channel signal called a
When a Class 4 connection is active, the primitive. Each node in the loop (that does
Class 2: Acknowledged switch paces frames from the source node not currently have a connection to some
connectionless service to the destination node. Pacing ensures other node in the loop) relays the primitive
Class 2 is a connectionless service that that the traffic over a virtual circuit does (as well as any frames) to the next node. If
routes each frame independently, while not exceed the allocated bandwidth. The that primitive signal is returned with the
providing guaranteed delivery, with an switch multiplexes frames belonging to sending node’s address, that node (which
acknowledgment of receipt. The path different virtual circuits between the same might be the switch port) has control of
between the two interconnected nodes is or different node pairs. Class 4 service the loop.
not dedicated. The switch multiplexes provides in-order delivery of frames.
data traffic from N_Ports and NL_Ports If two or more nodes (or if a node and the
without dedicating a path through the Class 4 flow control is end-to-end, and switch port) are contending for control at
switch. provides guaranteed delivery. Class 4 is the same time, loop control is given to the
ideal for time-critical and real-time appli- lowest address. After a node (or the switch
Class 2 flow control eliminates the cations like video. port) gains control, it opens a full-duplex,
congestion problems seen in many point-to-point circuit with another node.
connectionless networks by sending a Class 6: Unidirectional
“Busy” to the originating N_Port if the connection service with Only one pair of nodes may communicate
destination port is unable to accept the multicast and pre-emption over the loop at any given time. Any class
message. The N_Port will then re-send the Class 6 is similar to Class 1, providing of service may be used. However, most
message. a unidirectional connection service. loop applications use Class 3. When con-
However, Class 6 also provides reliable trol is released, another arbitration takes
Note: The very low frame latency in Class multicast and pre-emption. Class 6 is ideal place. Fairness guarantees equal access to
2 makes it ideal for data transfers like for video broadcast applications and real- all ports.
those in most business applications. time systems that move large quantities
of data. A Fibre Channel loop is self-configuring,
Class 3: Unacknowledged and may operate with or without a switch.
connectionless service Fibre channel topologies Each loop node (including the switch port)
Class 3 is a connectionless service, similar Fibre Channel allows the use of any of the self-discovers its environment and works
to Class 2. However, no confirmation of following topologies: properly (without manual intervention)
receipt is given to the sender. with other nodes in the Fibre Channel loop.
■ A point-to-point, dedicated bandwidth
This unacknowledged transfer is used for topology A stand-alone loop that is not connected
mass storage interfacing on Fibre Channel ■ A loop shared-bandwidth topology to any switch is called a Private Loop. If a
loops. The loop establishes a logical ■ A switched scaled bandwidth loop is linked into a Fibre Channel switch
point-to-point connection, and then reli- topology (through a port called an FL_Port) the
ably moves data to or from mass storage loop is called a Public Loop.
within the loop. Point-to-point, dedicated-
bandwidth topology Hubs
Class 3 transfers may also be used by Point-to-point topology is available in two Loops can be wired node to node around
other upper-layer protocols not related varieties. The first is simply two N_Ports the entire loop. However, if any node fails
to mass storage, such as IP or VI. These connected and exchanging information. (or if any node is not powered on) the
protocols create their own logical point- The second is when an externally con- entire loop will not operate. This problem
to-point connections and provide their trolled link switch is used to set up point- can be overcome with the use of a hub. A

Copyright 2000 / All rights reserved Reprinted from VMEbus Systems / March-April 2000 / 5
FIBRE CHANNEL: by-link basis. Based on adaptive routing
within the switch, individual frames
attributes, and their N_Port identifiers. A
node name is an 8-byte value that may be
A TUTORIAL between the switch ports are indepen- an IEEE address (worldwide unique) or it
dently routed. During frame switching, may be locally assigned. In either case, it
some buffering is needed inside the switch is unique within the switch address space.
hub uses a port-bypass circuit to detect to provide link level flow control between
whether a node is active. The bypass cir- the switch and the connected N_Port, N_Port identifiers are assigned (optionally
cuit either opens the loop (thus inserting NL_Port, or E_Port. Applications that by the login server) when login takes
the active node) or closes the loop, thus need low latency for short transfers will place. After this time, a node or N_Port
ensuring the loop is operational even when use frame switching. may register the association between that
that node is inactive. Hubs also allow node and related N_Ports. Translation for
nodes to be inserted or removed from the Note: In the future the switch’s E_Ports IP addresses, upper-layer protocols, and
loop while it is operating. will also be connected to WANs through classes of service is also provided.
an Inter Working Unit. This is the result of
Fibre Channel mass storage enclosures a joint development between the Fibre The alias server
have a loop built into their backplane. Channel industry in Japan and in the U.S. If a single server has multiple connections
Each backplane node also has a port- to a Fibre Channel fabric, these might col-
bypass circuit, just like those used in hubs. Initialization lectively be designated as a hunt group.
This allows the disk drives to be hot During initialization, address assignment The alias server assigns this hunt group an
swapped, into and out of the loop. and switch-to-switch paths are automati- alias.
cally determined. At any time during
Switched scaled-bandwidth the operation, nodes can be added or The alias server also assigns an alias to
topology removed. When nodes are connected, they each multicast group. A multicast group is
Fibre Channel switches are easy to install automatically login and exchange operat- a group of N_Ports that receive frames
and use because the Fibre Channel proto- ing parameters with their switch. During transmitted by some N_Port belonging to
col provides self-configuration and self- the login process an N_Port inherits the their group. The frame from a source
management. When a Fibre Channel address of its switch port. NL_Ports N_Port is replicated and sent to all the
switch or node powers on, it first deter- inherit the top 16 bits of the switches other members of the multicast group,
mines what is on the other end of the cable, FL_Port and then assign up to 126 using Class 3 service.
and then figures out how to work with it. addresses, using the bottom 8 bits for
members of the loop. The alias server manages the registration
If it is connected node-to-node, the two and the de-registration of all aliases. A sin-
nodes automatically operate point-to-point. Fibre Channel servers gle N_Port can register with more than
If it is connected to a switch, the node logs Fibre Channel servers provide a set of one multicast group at any time.
in with the switch and then exchanges functions, called Generic Services, which An N_Port may also register a list of
interoperability parameters. If the connec- provide enhancements to Fibre Channel's N_Ports as members of a multicast group.
tion is switch-to-switch, the login process basic protocols. These servers are typi- The fabric is responsible for the routing of
determines the network configuration and cally found in switched topologies. the frames based on these aliases.
addresses. All of this is automatic, requir-
ing no operator intervention. Multiple switches linked together form a Summary
fabric. The server functions might be cen- Fibre Channel brings to market reliable,
There are two types of ports on a switch: tralized on a single switch within a fabric, high-performance, easy-to-use, low-cost
or they might be distributed over all the communications required by the new
■ F_Ports / FL_Ports, which are used to switches in the fabric. The protocol used breed of data-and communications-inten-
connect switch-to-node to provide all services is the Fibre Channel sive applications. It provides new levels of
■ E_Ports, which are used to connect common transport protocol (FC-CT), performance for mass storage and server
switch-to-switch which is transparent to the fabric type or networks. Fibre Channel’s high-speed
topology. links offer more cost-effective solutions
If a port on a switch is both an F_Port and than today’s systems.
an E_Port it is called a G_Port (generic). The login server
Most switches come with G_Ports that The login server is a logical entity within Fibre Channel enables heterogeneous
automatically determine whether to the switch that receives and responds to clusters of mass storage, servers, and
behave as F_Ports or as E_Ports during login requests. The login server also con- workstations. It combines the attributes of
initialization. firms (or assigns) the N_Port address for a channel with those of a network, a syn-
each node that initiates a login. The login thesis which results in a more reliable,
Fibre Channel switches that offer both server can then provide the name server faster, lower-cost, simpler, and more effi-
connection-based and connectionless with the login attributes of each of its cient solution for IT systems.
switching are actually two separate N_Ports.
switches in one. These switches let appli- Massive data warehouses and data
cations take advantage of the best features The fabric/switch controller marts enable better management and deliv-
of both types of switching technologies. A fabric/switch controller provides ser- ery of data for improved decision making.
Note: Support for both a circuit-based and vices, such as initialization, configuration, Highly available, scalable computer and
a frame-based switching is not required. routing management, and optional fabric- mass storage clusters deliver effective use
Some switches are just circuit switches, assisted services. of corporate resources. Enterprises have
and others are just frame switches. seen a mass storage explosion, and Fibre
The name server Channel provides the means to manage
In the frame-switching mode, the band- The name server allows all nodes attached mass storage growth, while maintaining
width is dynamically allocated, on a link- to a fabric to discover other nodes, their and increasing performance.

6 / VMEbus Systems / March-April 2000 Copyright 2000 / All rights reserved

Copyright notice: This article is based on
The Fibre Channel
a book entitled Fibre Channel Technical
Overview (Copyright 1998 by the Fiber Industry Association
Channel Industry Association. All rights
The Fibre Channel Industry
Association (FCIA) is organized as
a not-for-profit, mutual benefit cor-
poration. The FCIA was formed in
How to get information about the fall of 1999, as a result of a
Fibre Channel standards currently merger between the Fibre Channel
in progress Association (FCA) and the Fibre
Channel Community (FCC). The
The National Committee for Informa-
FCIA currently has more than 150
tion Technology Standards (NCITS)
members in the United States and
(which can be found on the web at through its affiliate organizations in

index.2k.html) has a T11 Technical Europe and Japan. As a California

Committee that is responsible for mutual benefit corporation, the busi-
device-level mass storage interface ness of the FCIA is not conducted
standardization. This committee has for financial gain or profit, but rather
been producing interface standards all FCIA activities and operations
for high-performance and mass stor- are coordinated and implemented
age applications since the 1970s. for the mutual benefit of its mem-
Currently, T11’s program of work bers. The FCIA mission is to nurture
includes three families of standards: and help develop the broadest mar-
ket for fibre channel products. This

■ Fibre Channel (FC) will be done through market devel-

■ High-Performance Parallel opment, education, standards moni-

Interface (HIPPI) toring and fostering interoperability
■ Intelligent Peripheral Interface among members’ products.

The T11 Technical Committee has its Want more information

own web site ( about Fibre Channel?
technology/index.2k.html) which pro- Check out the Fibre Channel
vides access to past and current speci- Industry Association’s web site at
fications. If you want to go directly It provides
to the web page that provides infor- an overview of Fibre Channel tech-
mation about their work on Fibre nology, application stories, product
Channel, you can access www.fibre listings, event listings, and news stories.

Copyright 2000 / All rights reserved Reprinted from VMEbus Systems / March-April 2000 / 7