Thunderbolt was everywhere at the NAB Show, including many new products previewed or unveiled just last week. Beyond the two previously-known storage devices, the Promise Pegasus and LaCie Little Big Disk, a number of interfaces were also on display. Since this was the NAB Show, much of the focus was on the audio and video interfaces from Blackmagic and AJA, but Promise had a surprise in store: Their SANLink is a Fibre Channel interface for Thunderbolt.
SANLink: Connecting MacBook Pros to the SAN?
The SANLink is a compact portable device that allows a Thunderbolt-equipped computer (currently the 2011 MacBook Pro line) to Fibre Channel SAN. Featuring two 4 Gbps Fibre Channel ports, the SANLink demonstrates the kind of high performance that we can expect from future Thunderbolt peripherals.
I have to admit, the SANLink left me scratching my head at first. Why would a MacBook Pro user want to connect to a Fibre Channel SAN? Is this even a good idea? Considering that the slim Thunderbolt connector is not firmly fixed in place, a sudden disconnect is likely and would prove highly disruptive to the SAN, not just the laptop. And what laptop user wants to connect to a Fibre Channel SAN anyway?
I talked to the product manager from Promise, who suggested a use case for this device: Mobile video production systems sometimes use Fibre Channel for high-performance storage connectivity, and a MacBook Pro user could use theSANLink to access these storage devices as well. I will concede that a few people at the NAB Show were probably intrigued by this possibility, but I’m betting that the SANLink will be much more useful in an entirely different market segment.
Considering that Apple is set to update the iMac line this month, it seems likely that the SANLink will allow these gorgeous desktop computers finally to meet their destiny as audiovisual workstations. Running Final Cut Pro X on a new Sandy Bridge iMac with high-performance Fibre Channel storage will be a revelation, and will likely cause a raft of Mac Pro users to “switch”. Promise is certainly barred from talking about future Apple products, even if they have inside information, but this is a much more logical use case than the SAN-on-the-go.
SANLink suggests that we may soon see a variety of high-performance interfaces developed for the Thunderbolt ports soon to be found across Apple’s product line. I would not be at all surprised to see 10 Gb Ethernet adapters, P2 and ExpressCard readers, docking stations, and perhaps even a PCI Express expansion bay.
Although the SANLink appears to be something of an oddball, it indicates the shape of things to come. Thunderbolt will transform the use cases for portable and all-in-one computers, likely spelling the end of the empty boxes for desktop use. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if Apple soon canceled the Mac Pro line entirely in favor of a beefed up Mac Mini and iMac stable. And the dozen or so MacBook Pro users wanting to connect to a Fibre Channel SAN will finally have the opportunity to do so sometime later this year.