Intel Fast Tracks Unified Networking With Open FCoE

Intel on Wednesday unveiled Open Fibre Channel Over Ethernet (FCoE), a new technology that makes it possible for data center Fibre Channel storage traffic to travel on 10 gigabit Ethernet networks.

Intel sees Open FCoE as an important catalyst for unified networking in the data center and it's offering the Open FCoE software stack as a free upgrade to its X520 line of Ethernet server adapters. The X520 line supports iSCSI, NFS and Open FCoE, making it suitable for cloud environments where the ability to move workloads around is key, said Tom Swinford, vice president and general manager of Intel's LAN access division.

"We're bringing Open FCoE to every single server out there to help customers simplify networking and save money," Swinford said at an event in downtown San Francisco. "We need to make sure storage, networking and compute are all working together so we can have the flexibility needed for cloud computing."

Intel's approach to Open FCoE is to run all fibre channel protocols on the host instead of on propriety hardware, said Swinford. "This allows us to have a standard 10 gigabit Ethernet adapter, integrated with the OS, that uses intelligent offloads and features performance that scales with the platform as processor speed increases over time," he said.

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Open FCoE offers significant savings in terms of power consumption and cabling, replacing 8 to 10 one gigabit connections for a server and two fibre channel connections and reducing the number of adapters needed.

Intel has been working with the Linux community to develop Open FCoE and with the IEEE Data Center Bridging standards group to get Ethernet in shape to handle Open FCoE traffic, according to Swinford. Cisco, EMC, Dell, NetApp, Oracle and Red Hat have all built support for FCoE into their products.

Soni Jiandani, vice president of Cisco's Server Access and Virtualization group, said Cisco is supporting Open FCoE in all its 10 gigabit Ethernet switches and providing it as an option. "Customers will no longer need to differentiate between iSCSI, NAS or fibre channel," she said.

Open FCoE is now qualified for EMC and NetApp storage arrays. Paul Brown, vice president and general manager of EMC's storage and networking business, said the basic tenets of the cloud will be built on standard 10 gigabit Ethernet network, and all storage needs to be accessible through the network.

Brown doesn't envision Open FCoE prompting customers to rip and replace their current fibre channel infrastructure, but he said the technology will have an important role in new deployments. "Open FCoE is coming to forefront for customers that are building new data centers," he said. "This is a multi-year journey that we're committing to."

Intel isn't typically associated with storage, but Intel processors are now in more than 70 percent of storage arrays on the market, and Ethernet NICs have been carrying storage traffic for more than a decade, Swinford said, adding that this becomes even more important in the cloud when customers want to move workloads around. "People have been trusting their data to Intel for quite some time," he said.

Intel, which co-founded the original Ethernet standard in 1980, has shipped over 600 million ports of Ethernet to date, including 70 million this past year, Swinford said.

"Acceleration of Ethernet is increasing, and we're trying to make FCoE really simple so that any adapter can connect to any of the storage fabrics," he said.