Fibre Channel (FC) is a high-speed data transfer protocol (commonly running at 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, and 128 gigabits per second rates) providing in-order, lossless delivery of raw block data. Fibre Channel is primarily used to connect computer data storage to servers in storage area networks (SAN) in commercial data centers. Fibre Channel networks form a switched fabric because the switches in a network operate in unison as one big switch. Fibre Channel typically runs on optical fiber cables within and between data centers, but can also run on copper cabling.
There are various upper-level protocols for Fibre Channel, including two for block storage. Fibre Channel Protocol (FCP) is a protocol that transports SCSI commands over Fibre Channel networks. FICON is a protocol that transports ESCON commands, used by Mainframe computers, over Fibre Channel. Fibre Channel can be used to transport data from storage systems that use solid-state flash memory storage medium by transporting NVMe protocol commands.
When the technology was originally devised, it ran over optical fiber cables only and, as such, was called "Fiber Channel". Later, the ability to run over copper cabling was added to the specification. In order to avoid confusion and to create a unique name, the industry decided to change the spelling and use the British English fiber for the name of the standard.
Fibre Channel is standardized in the T11 Technical Committee of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS), an American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accredited standards committee. Fibre Channel started in 1988, with ANSI standard approval in 1994, to merge the benefits of multiple physical layer implementations including SCSI, HIPPI, and ESCON.
Fibre Channel was designed as a serial interface to overcome limitations of the SCSI and HIPPI interfaces. FC was developed with leading-edge multi-mode optical fiber technologies that overcame the speed limitations of the ESCON protocol. By appealing to the large base of SCSI disk drives and leveraging mainframe technologies, Fibre Channel developed economies of scale for advanced technologies and deployments became economical and widespread.
Commercial products were released while the standard was still in draft. By the time the standard was ratified lower speed versions were already growing out of use. Fibre Channel was the first serial storage transport to achieve gigabit speeds where it saw wide adoption, and its success grew with each successive speed. Fibre Channel has doubled in speed every few years since 1996.
Fibre Channel has seen active development since its inception, with numerous speed improvements on a variety of underlying transport media. The following table shows the progression of native Fibre Channel speeds: