Differing Views on Fibre Channel over Ethernet

Arthur Cole

Fibre Channel over Ethernet may finally be ready to move from the drawing board to the production line now that the industry has agreed to the basic framework for interoperable product development.


The Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) has released a common addressing structure that allows vendors to begin producing systems under the FCoE standard. The structure has already received broad backing among leading SAN vendors like Brocade, Cisco, Emulex, QLogic, as well as server and storage firms like HP, IBM and EMC.


The prospect of running Fibre Channel SANs over Ethernet networks has vendors talking about everything from lowering the cost and complexity of datacenter networking to fully unified fabrics encompassing all manner of performance and reliability improvements. In fact, some see the advent of FCoE as the main driver behind the development of 4 Gb and 8 Gb Fibre Channel systems in the face of the rapid ascension of iSCSI, which already uses the Ethernet.


IBM, for instance, just launched a new 8 Gb Fibre Channel "Super Director" in what looks to be a long-term commitment to Fibre Channel. The SAN768B is actually an OEM from Brocade, so it will have broad interoperability with the large installed base of McData directors, which Brocade purchased last year. It's interesting to note that IBM is already rolling out 8 Gb technology when all but the largest of organizations is only just now setting up their 4 Gb systems.


Despite the vendor enthusiasm for FCoE, some are starting to question whether the technology will find a ready customer base. The Dell'Oro Group, for instance, is questioning whether the industry will be put off by the high cost of 10 Gbps Ethernet technology, which will likely be necessary to handle storage traffic on top of existing data and voice streams. With 8 Gbps FC likely to provide high-speed networking and steadily falling prices over the next five years, demand for FCoE may be hampered.


Still others are questioning the basic premise of FCoE to begin with. Informationweek's Terry Sweeney says FCoE does nothing to lessen storage complexity, particularly with the prospect of Fibre Channel being extended over IP, WDM and Sonet/SDH networks as well. Any way you cut it, he says, Fibre Channel is going to be expensive, and extending it across multiple networks will require a lot of conversion technology.


The vendor community, of course, thinks FCoE is a winner, and is willing to spend big dollars to bring it to market. Their primary goal will be to convince you that the benefits outweigh the costs, but it won't be possible to make that determination until actual products are available.

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