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Differences between iFCP & FCIP

Fibre Channel (FC) is the most widely used technology for storage networking. Data networking world is ruled by TCP/IP. FC and TCP/IP are two different worlds. Is there a way to send storage data across the omnipresent TCP/IP without losing the FC advantage? Is a connection between the two domains possible? The answer is yes, by using Internet Fibre Channel Protocol (iFCP) & Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol (FCIP). The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) has standardized these protocols, but haziness exists on differences between the two and the suitability of each in the enterprise scenario. This paper aims to resolve the nebulosity.

How does iFCP work?

iFCP is a gateway to gateway protocol that is used to connect FC devices and/or FC SANs to existing IP infrastructure. As shown in Fig 1, individual FC devices can communicate via the IP network using iFCP gateways. The gateways talk using iFCP. FC messaging services and routing services are terminated at the gateways so the fabrics are not merged to one another.

Fig 1. FC devices communicating via iFCP.

iFCP has been designed to use the existing TCP/IP networks transport services. It sends FC data on the transport connections provided by TCP. Thus the fabric services are provided by TCP/IP and not by FC. As can be seen from Fig. 2, the only the Top layer of FC-4 is utilized in the stack, the lower layers are TCP/IP layers. Thus the FC4 layer which is the upper level layer sends storage data it receives from applications, using the TCP transport services.

Fig.2 The iFCP protocol stack

Source: iSCSI* Review by Vladamir Savyak (

How does FCIP work?

FCIP is a protocol used for connecting geographically separated FC SANs.

FC Devices

Tunneling through IP

Fig 3. FCIP Tunneling to connect FC SANs across IP network

Source: Clearing the Confusion: A Primer on IP Storage Volume 2 by Ahmad Zamar (SNIA

It does so by tunneling through the IP network to connect the FC SANs. Tunneling refers to the concept of transporting encapsulated FC frames across an IP network. Encapsulation means that the payload of the Ethernet frames carry FC frames. The fabric services are those of the individual FC SAN in this case.
* iSCSI- A protocol that exists in the IP Storage space but is not in the purview of this discussion.

Fig 4. FC frame encapsulation within IP datagram

Source: Clearing the Confusion: A Primer on IP Storage Volume 2 by Ahmad Zamar (SNIA

Since FCIP is a Tunneling protocol, only FCIP gateway needs to be aware of encapsulation. Thus, the frame appears like FC to the SAN, and IP to the LAN.

Fig 5. FCIP protocol stack

Source: iSCSI Review by Vladamir Savyak (

The stack shows that the entire FC stack is placed on the TCP/IP layers and thus when interpreted at the gateway, yields an FC frame. This FC frame is stripped within the FC SAN.

What are the differences between iFCP & FCIP?

1. The differences are evident when one compares the stacks shown in Fig 2 and Fig.5. The stack of iFCP clearly shows that only the top layer of FC stack is placed onto the existing IP stack. Thus the FC-4 layer (which deals with the SCSI-3 CBDs) utilizes the services provided by the TCP layer.

The FCIP stack in Fig. 5 shows that the entire FC stack, including the lower layers are placed onto the TCP/IP stack. This means that the entire FC frame has been encapsulated as the IP payload. No transport services of TCP are utilized. 2. iFCP is a Gateway-to-Gateway protocol whereas the FCIP is a tunneling protocol. iFCP instead provides dynamic tunneling. 3. FCIP provides a SAN to SAN connection whereas iFCP can provide FC device-todevice communication, SAN to SAN communication or even a combination of the two forms. 4. iFCP can have a different type of service (service from the transport layer) for each device-to-device connection whereas FCIP has a single one applicable for each device on both the SANs. 5. In FCIP, only the FCIP gateway has to be aware of the encapsulation, as it is transparent to both SAN and LAN. In case of iFCP, all the devices are involved in the process as the protocol utilizes services from the TCP/IP stack.

Both the protocols are methods to connect the two worlds of FC and TCP/IP. They have their relative merits and areas of applications. They seem to be competing technologies and their application areas look similar. The key to choosing between them is to understand your requirements well. FCIP is useful in places with a low budget. It is so because the existing infrastructure does not need to be altered. Merely a FC to IP gateway needs to be installed. iFCP on the other hand is a costlier alternative as it requires an iFCP gateway for each device but with the advantage that each device to device connection, can utilize a different transport level service.

1. CBD - Command Block Descriptor 2. FC Fibre Channel 3. FC-4 Top layer of FC stack 4. FCIP Fibre Channel over Internet Protocol 5. iFCP Internet Fibre Channel Protocol 6. iSCSI Internet Small Computer System Interface. 7. IP Internet Protocol 8. LAN Local Area Network 9. SAN Storage Area Network 10. SCSI Small Computer System Interface 11. SNIA Storage Networking Industry Association 12. TCP Transmission Control Protocol References 1. 2. iSCSI Review by Vladamir Savyak ( Clearing the Confusion: A Primer on IP Storage Volume 2 by Ahmad Zamar ( SNIA