Fibre Channel and the Converged Network

Arthur Cole

For anyone who still thinks that Ethernet "won" the battle for control of the unified network, with Fibre Channel relegated to a mere afterthought, some new developments might help to change that opinion.

In fact, it's starting to look like the fabric itself won't be the same without Fibre Channel.

Exhibit A is a new report from the Dell'Oro Group, which pegs Fibre Channel over Ethernet as a major growth factor for both the Fibre Channel HBA and Ethernet network adapter markets going forward. The group argues that the value proposition of the converged network will be too great to resist in the coming years, and that the current blade and rack architectures of most data centers are ripe for an upgrade at the access layer.

That reality is starting to impress itself on the Ethernet community. Chelsio Communications, for example, recently added support for open source FCoE across its 10 GbE adapter line. The move is a testament to the fact that Fibre Channel is not going anywhere and without an FCoE solution, customers will be drawn to native FC HBAs rather than Ethernet ones.

Even Cisco, which has long touted Ethernet as its fabric of choice, is adding FCoE to its major networking platforms. The company has been quietly adding FCoE capability to its Ethernet systems, first the Nexus 5000 and most recently the Nexus 7000, which is emerging as the main interconnect in the company's strategy to foster multi-data center cloud fabrics. The company's line of multi-protocol devices, such as the MDS switch, are seeing new FCoE modules as well.

Despite all of this integration, deploying a unified fabric is still a significant challenge in the face of the often complicated legacy architectures that have evolved in most data centers. Brocade's Ahmad Zamer and NetApp's Mike McNamara argue that the best approach is to deploy a bridging/FCoE solution at the edge first where you'll see the greatest ROI through reductions in server port counts and edge switches. Following that, extend that architecture from the host through the network and into the storage system, followed by 10 GbE in the core and FCoE in related storage devices. In this way, you see minimal disruption to existing services and you wind up with a more efficient network infrastructure with a single management regime for both IP and Fibre Channel networks.

The very nature of the converged network means that all protocols have an equal shot at deployment, since the type of networking being used is based more on user and application needs rather than available hardware.

That said, it seems likely that Fibre Channel will continue to enjoy a long, healthy life as part of the Ethernet universe.

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