Life is a series of choices. Every day, we’re presented with a range of choices—some easy, some impossible, and others somewhere in between. When it comes to managing your data centers and commercial networks, choosing the right switches can be challenging. That’s especially true when several hardware components exist that all serve a similar purpose. Deciding whether to purchase Ethernet or fiber channel (FC) switches is a common dilemma facing IT managers.

Ethernet cables being used at a data center.

We’ve unpacked the differences for you here to enable you to compare fiber channel vs. Ethernet and make the right choice for your company.

  1. Function
  2. Speed
  3. Price
  4. Maintenance
  5. Operation

Difference #1: Function

Data centers typically used Ethernet for TCP/IP networks and fibre channel forstorage area networks(SANs). Ethernet connects a wide range of computing devices to each other across a local or wide area network (LAN/WAN) using packet switching technology. FC is a high-speed technology that transfers large quantities of raw block data between servers and data storage centers using point-to-point interfaces.

Difference #2: Speed

According to the Fibre Channel Industry Association’s Roadmap, fibre channel switches operate at speeds of 8, 16, 32, 64, and 128 GFC, with the possibility of 256 GFC being available by 2025. Meanwhile, the speed of optical transceivers used in Ethernet ranges from Fast Ethernet of up to 100 Mbps, Gigabit Ethernet of up to 1000Mbps, and 10 Gigabit Ethernet to 100/400GbE. The transmission speed of individual networks depends on their specific configuration and working environment, but the two options offer similar speeds.

Difference #3: Price

When it comes to affordability, Ethernet switches beat out FC by a comfortable margin. This factor is mitigated by FC’s primary use in data center SANs, while Ethernet delivers a complete service in networks of any size. In a data center environment, an 8GFC switch costs less than a 10Gbps Ethernet switch. However, the 16GFC switch is comparable in cost to a 10GbE. For organizations that have already spent time and money implementing a fiber channel network, it’s more cost-effective to stick with FC than to start over with Ethernet.

Difference #4: Maintenance

The cost and convenience of maintenance also matter for companies engaged in deciding between FC vs. Ethernet switches. At an enterprise IT level, administrators can usually address an Ethernet switch that malfunctions. When a problem arises with FC switches, companies may need to call in professional help from the manufacturer. The potential for longer downtime increases the company’s risk and can impact the cost of resolving the issue.

Difference #5: Operation

A fiber channel switch acts as an intermediary between your servers and your data storage devices. By attaching both to the FC switch, server requests are directed to the correct storage device. This removes the need for each server to connect directly to every storage facility and simplifies the overall system. With Ethernet switches, computers and other network devices connect over a wired LAN to make physical connections between nodes.

Choosing the Best Option

Making the right decision for your organization depends on factors such as your budget, the level of IT skill you have access to, and what your current scenario includes.

Ethernet is a simple, high-performance, solution for most data centers and commercial networks. For a company that hasn’t already implemented FC, choosing Ethernet networking makes the most sense. Organizations that already have an FC solution in place may want to consider fiber channel over Ethernet (FCoE) which eliminates the need to buy a host bus adapter (HBA).

We recommend conducting careful due diligence to determine the best solution for your company’s current and long-term needs.

Check out ComNet's Ethernet Solutions for more information on how to select the best switches for your system, or contact us for comprehensive, unbiased help and advice.