I get this question a lot from my customers and prospects. How many hosts can I can connect to array X? Vendor Y claims his array can connect 512 hosts. Vendor Z claims his array can connect up to 1024 hosts.
In general, there's a lot of confusion regarding the capability of a single array and the number of hosts it can adequately support. The numbers stated above are purely theoretical in nature and no vendor has connected nor can they point you to a customer of theirs with this many host connections to an array.
In general, the number of hosts an array can adequately support is dependent upon several things. One, is the available Queues per Physical Storage Port. Secondly, is the number the Storage Ports and third, is the array's available bandwidth.
The number of outstanding IOs per physical storage port has a direct impact on performance and scalability. Storage ports within arrays have varying queue depths, from 256 Queues, to 512, to 1024, to 2048 per port. The number of initiators (aka HBAs) a single storage port can support is directly related to the storage port's available queues.
For example a port with 512 queues and a typical LUN queue depth of 32 can support up to:
512 / 32 = 16 LUNs on 1 Initiator (HBA) or 16 Initiators(HBAs) with 1 LUN each or any combination not to exceed this number.
Configurations that exceed this number are in danger of returning QFULL conditions. A QFULL condition signals that the target/storage port is unable to process more IO requests and thus the initiator will need to throttle IO to the storage port. As a result of this, application response times will increase and IO activity will decrease. Typically, initiators will throttle I/O and will gradually start increasing it again.
While most OSes can handle QFULL conditions gracefully, some mis-interpret QFULL conditions as I/O errors. From what I recall, AIX is such an animal, where after three successive QFULL conditions an I/O error will occur.
Having said all this, since FC traffic is by nature bursty, the probability that all initiators will do a fast load on the LUNs at the same with the same I/O characteristics, to the same storage port is probably low, however, it's possible and it happens from time to time. So watch out and plan ahead.
The key message to remember is that when someone tells you that they can connect an enormous number of hosts to their disk array, is to ask them the queue depth setting on the host and the available queue depth per storage port. That's the key. For random I/O, a typical LUN queue depth setting is anywhere from 16-32. For sequential 8 is a typical setting.
So lets do an example:
An 8 port array with 512 queues per storage port and a host queue depth setting of 32 will be able to connect up to:
( 8 x 512) / 32 = 128 single connected hosts or 64 Dually connected hosts.
The fan-out ratio here is 16/1. That means 16 initiators per storage port. Depending on the I/O characteristics this number may or may not be high. The industry average is around 7-8/1 but I've seen then as high as 20/1. It all depends on the I/O and nature of it. If you're doing random I/O with a small block size chances are you'll be OK, but if the I/O is sequential, then bandwidth is critical and the fan-out ratio will need to come down. The application performance requirements will dictate the ratio.