Fibre Channel Over Ethernet To Transfrom The Data Center

Fibre Channel

Included in that list was a stealth company set up by Cisco and destined to be acquired by its parent.

The FCoE technology has been in development by leading networking and storage companies for about a year, since details of the technology were unveiled in April of 2007.

With FCoE, enterprises can run their Fibre Channel SANs over 10-Gbit Enhanced Ethernet networks without the need to change those SANs except for the addition of some type of Fibre Channel-to-Ethernet bridge. Those bridges could be either an appliance, an add-on module to existing Ethernet switches, or software embedded in the Ethernet switches.

Enhanced Ethernet, also known as Data Center Ethernet, is similar to standard 10-Gbit Ethernet except that it uses advanced technology to protect against lost packets, said Frank Berry, vice president of marketing at QLogic, of Aliso Viejo, Calif.

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Unlike a similar protocol, Fibre Channel over IP (FCIP), which requires investment in equipment to hand a variation of the Fibre Channel protocol to tunnel through IP networks, FCoE maintains a company's existing investment in Fibre channel technology. Instead, the FCoE bridges handle the translation of Fibre Channel signals into a format that can be transported over Enhanced Ethernet networks, Berry said.

Last week, multiple vendors proposed the creation of the FCoE specification to the T11 Committee of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Those vendors include Brocade Communications Systems, of San Jose, Calif.; Cisco, of San Jose; EMC, of Hopkinton, Mass.; Emulex, of Costa Mesa, Calif.; IBM, of Armonk, N.Y.; Intel, of Santa Clara, Calif.; Nuova Systems, of San Jose; QLogic; and Sun Microsystems, of Santa Clara.

The standard is expected to be finalized in the second half of 2008.

Rich Baldwin, president and CEO of Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego, Calif.-based solution provider, said that while FCoE products have yet to reach the market, it is a technology whose time has come.

"10-Gbit Ethernet is out there, and is cost-effective," Baldwin said. "Everybody predicted that Ethernet would win (over Fibre Channel). But I don't see Fibre Channel going away."

Cisco invested in setting up Nuova specifically to develop FCoE switches, and on Tuesday said it will acquire the 20 percent of the company still in private hands, making it a subsidiary.

Cisco, which had previously invested $70 million in Nuova, said it would pay $10 million to $678 million for the rest of Nuova, based on the future success of the company's products.

Cisco also unveiled the Cisco Nexus 5000, a 10-Gigabit Ethernet "top-of-rack" switch that offers unified fabric capabilities through the support for multiple data center networking protocols and software intelligence to support Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). The Nexus 5000 was Nuova's first-to-market product.

Using FCoE as the connectivity backbone will go far towards simplifying data center infrastructure, Berry said. "It's a unified fabric," he said. "So instead of a rack of Fibre Channel switches and a rack of Ethernet switches, customers can use FCoE switches and move data networking and data storage over one wire. One 10-Gbit Ethernet cable can replace 10 GbE cables, or five 2-Gbit Fibre Channel cables, or two 4-Gbit Fibre Channel cables." QLogic on Tuesday unveiled its first FCoE product: converged network adaptors, or CNAs. CNAs are multi-protocol network interface cards which allow both Ethernet and FCoE connectivity. Berry said the company expects to ship its QLogic 8000-series CNAs within the next 30 to 60 days.

Also introducing FCoE CNAs is Emulex, which showed its LightPulse LP21000 family. The company unveiled four different CNAs, including two single-channel and two dual-channel models, with optical SFP+ or copper SFP+ interfaces.

Intel is in the process of adding FCoE initiator software to its 10-Gbit Ethernet cards, which will make them FCoE cards, said Sunil Ahluwalia, product line manager in Intel's LAN Access division. A FCoE initiator will be available for Red Hat 5 Linux in July, with a Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 version scheduled to be available later his year, Ahluwalia said.

Intel is also supporting SFP+ Twinax cable with its 10-GbE boards. 10-GbE requires expensive fiber cabling for distance transmission of data. However, for distances of under 10 meters, such as for connected devices in the same rack together, customers can use lower-cost copper SFP+ Twinax cable.

"This accelerates 10-GbE adoption because of the lower cost and lower power consumption than fiber," Ahluwalia said. "But it offers all the same features as other products."

Ahluwalia said that a typical 10-GbE fibre connection costs $1,700 to $2,000 per port, compared to about $400 per port for SFP+. She said that up to four major FCoE players will introduce products using SFP+ this year.

Brocade said it plans to work with Intel to deliver FCoE solutions by early next year.

Blade Network Technologies, a Santa Clara, Calif.-based developer of Gbit and 10-Gbit Ethernet solutions for blade server and rack chasses, demonstrated a blade server-based FCoE fabric working with Emulex and storage vendor NetApp, of Sunnyvale, Calif.

Going forward, the main competition for FCoE for unifying data center connectivity will be InfiniBand. However, Berry said, unlike Gbit Ethernet, InfiniBand is not sitting in everybody's IT shops. "If a customer has high-performance computing, its core already is InfiniBand, and so it will continue to work with it," he said. "But for everybody else, the core is Ethernet."