Fibre Channel in an Ethernet World

Arthur Cole

When an industry is in transition, long-term decision-making carries a great deal of risk.

 

That is particularly true of the data center industry, which, arguably, has been in transition since its inception. These days, however, as we witness the decoupling of software from hardware and the wholesale outsourcing of IT services so they can be consumed as needed like water or electricity, decisions over IT infrastructure are becoming momentous indeed. Guess right, and you reap the benefits of long-term flexibility and efficiency. Guess wrong and you're stuck with an out-of-sync platform that inhibits growth and profitability.

 

"The growth will be in NAS, or iSCSI, and finally FCoE when the ecosystem is finally established."


Kianoosh Naghshineh
CEO, Chelsio Communications

Nowhere is this paradigm more acute than in storage networking. While there has always been a plethora of platforms and protocols to choose from, it seems like many of the forces sweeping the data center are coming to a head in storage. Do you build out your own infrastructure or port everything over to the cloud? Should you consolidate on Ethernet, InfiniBand or some other fabric? And how will you integrate high-speed SSDs into the picture?

 

Before any of this can be hammered out, however, you need to settle the question of protocols. But unlike earlier times when the decision between Fibre Channel or iSCSI was largely based on the relative merits of the protocols themselves, today's decision is likely to have ramifications far beyond simple storage. As network converged places storage, data and voice all on the same pipe, changes in one area could alter performance levels in others.


 

For those who are sticking with Fibre Channel due to its speed and lossless performance, the good news is that it has secured a place in the future data center fabric through the successful launch of Fibre Channel over Ethernet. And it seems that some in the industry are focused on pushing FCoE past the traditional switch and adapter deployments and right to the blade chassis.

 

BLADE Network Technologies recently integrated QLogic's virtual fabric extender directly onto the IBM BladeCenter rack. Perversely, this entrenches Fibre Channel deeper into the server infrastructure even while it eliminates much of the Fibre Channel networking hardware that is now considered standard in many enterprises.

 

"Combining BLADE's BNT Virtual Fabric 10Gb Switch Module with the QLogic Virtual Fabric Extension Module for IBM BladeCenter provides several advantages over top-of-rack gateways, such as lower power consumption, lower price and higher density," says Graham Smith, director of management, BLADE Network Technologies. "IBM also provides an integrated management solution that provides a single point of configuration for CNAs, Ethernet switches and FCoE Gateways."

 

This solution works best, of course, with a high-speed network, namely 10 GbE, already in place.

 



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