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When the Fibre Channel over Ethernet standard is ratified next year, it could mark the official beginning of the next stage of development for the storage industry. But it's not without its controversy.
Some vendors just couldn't wait for the final seal of approval on the FCoE standard and have rolled out new products they say will be compatible with the standard once it is ratified. Their decision has some rivals crying foul about the risks of investing in new technology before the standards are set in stone.
Brocade Communications Systems Inc., San Jose, and HP ProCurve, Palo Alto, Calif., are in the latter camp, saying the industry should wait for the standard to be finalized.
How do solution providers feel about vendors "jumping the gun?" Greg Knieriemen, vice president of marketing at Chi Corp., a Cleveland-based solution provider, said he expects no issues with products from NetApp.
"I can't imagine a scenario where NetApp would release a product that couldn't be upgraded to meet the standard," Knieriemen said. "Don't forget, this happened with iSCSI, too. The manufacturers came out with products before it was ratified, and no problems."
When Fibre Channel first came to market a decade ago, interoperability between the different vendors' products was a major issue that took a couple years to solve. But when iSCSI arrived a few years back, there were few such issues as it was based on the well-established IP and Ethernet protocols.
FCoE is an attempt to overcome the shortcomings of the two primary technologies for building storage networks: Fibre Channel and iSCSI.
Fibre Channel is a high-performance storage networking technology with a full range of data reliability and security features. Even so, its performance still lags that of 10-Gigabit Ethernet, and will lag even further as 40-Gbps and 100-Gbps Ethernet are introduced to market over the next few years.
More important, however, is Fibre Channel's six-mile distance limitation, which forces customers to employ IP gateways that are costly in terms of price and performance overhead in order to extend Fibre Channel beyond a small campus or to connect multiple Fibre Channel SANs.
The second is iSCSI, which connects SCSI hosts and storage devices natively to each other over IP networks to form low-cost storage networks.
The low cost and widespread availability of iSCSI has helped popularize it in small and midsize businesses that couldn't otherwise afford the cost of implementing Fibre Channel, as well as in enterprises for consolidating remote office or branch office data.
However, since it is based on IP networks, iSCSI suffers from a high performance overhead and does not include the security and management features of Fibre Channel.
Cisco, the market's top networking switch vendor, is leading the early charge to bring FCoE to market. It has set up a partner ecosystem that includes converged network adapter developers QLogic, Emulex and Intel Corp., Santa Clara, Calif.; storage vendors such as NetApp, EMC Corp., Hopkinton, Mass.; and 3Par Inc., Fremont, Calif.; facilities vendors such as APC Corp., West Kingston, R.I.; and Panduit Corp., Tinley Park, Ill.; and Dell Inc., Round Rock, Texas.
Prem Jain, senior vice president of Cisco's Server Access Virtualization Business Unit, said that in his 30 years in the industry, this is the first time he has seen so many partners come together on a new technology.
Customers need to implement FCoE as quickly as possible in order to consolidate servers and cut the number of cables and separate adapter cards used, Jain said. While in general it is a good idea to ensure that standards are ratified before introducing new technology, he noted, the fact is that all the major players in the storage infrastructure market, including rival Brocade, have been involved in preparing FCoE.
"The hardware was already frozen a long time ago," he said. "If changes occur now, they can be adopted with software to meet the standard."
Marty Lans, senior director of data center marketing at Brocade, Cisco's rival in the storage networking market, said his company is working on FCoE because of the converged networking potential. "But the standards are not in place," Lans said. "The last thing a data center guy wants to hear is, 'There are changes.' Cisco does not have a lot of experience with the storage guys, but the storage guys have to deal with these issues."
Those storage guys will need nudging before wholeheartedly accepting FCoE, Lans said.