FCoE in the Switch

Arthur Cole

Fibre Channel over Ethernet may still be on the drawing board at the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA). But make no mistake about it, along with the HBA manufacturers I mentioned yesterday, the major switch vendors have every intention of making sure it's available as their new datacenter fabric technologies roll out this year.


Earlier this month, Cisco used its 2008 Partner Summit in Honolulu to formally unveil the Nexus 5000, the precursor of sorts to the company's unified fabrics strategy. The 5000 is designed to allow datacenters to consolidate I/O resources in the hopes of smoothing the transition to the Nexus 7000, the massive switch that is set to bring all data communications under one roof.


The 5000 provides line-rate, low-latency 10 GbE switching, along with FCoE, Data Center Ethernet and virtualization machine support. The idea is to consolidate LAN traffic, FC and iSCSI SANs and server cluster traffic onto an Ethernet-based fabric. The device is designed to promote shared pools of processing, memory and network resources to allow more flexible provisioning to meet user demand.


Cisco also purchased the remaining 20 percent of Nuova Systems that it didn't already own. Nuova, which had been operating as a Cisco subsidiary since 2006, was primarily responsible for the development of the 5000 switch.


Meanwhile, Brocade has begun working with Intel to bring 10 GbE adapter hardware into the Brocade Data Center Fabric (DCF) architecture as a way to boost the performance of FCoE connectivity. Combining FCoE with 10 GbE is considered a key development for unified fabrics because it offers a wider pipe for the growing mix of data that will be transferred over those networks. It also gives Brocade a strong partner in the Ethernet space as the technology advances from 10 G to 20 and beyond.


Brocade's architecture relies heavily on the DCX Backbone, which already is slated to run full 8 Gbps Fibre Channel aboard all 896 ports in the largest dual-chassis configurations. InfoWorld's Mario Apicella recently had a chance to put the DCX through its paces, and he offers a lot in this article for you techies to ponder. His overall impression is generally positive, although he'd like to see more in the way of policy management and encryption to make it more virtualization-friendly.


FCoE is likely to be the lynch-pin in keeping Fibre Channel in the running as more and more enterprises turn to Ethernet-based switching under the guise of unified fabrics. The thing to remember is that this connectivity ends at the edge, and as more and more organizations turn global in scope, the pressure will be on to simplify connectivity across the wide range of WAN protocols as well.

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