A Flurry of Fabric Developments

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It looks like just about everybody wants a piece of the enterprise fabric these days. From new systems to new alliances, the flurry of activity surrounding fabric solutions is starting to rival the early days of virtualization.


And this is happening despite the fact that the fabric is largely undefined, outside of the relatively vague concept of bringing Internet functionality to the enterprise.


The most recent match-up is between Liquid Computing and Microsoft, who have brought the LiquidIQ real-time infrastructure system to the Microsoft Partner Solutions Center (MPSC). The showcase is designed to provide a working demonstration of how the LiquidIQ system can provide a software-based scalable fabric architecture across multiple Microsoft platforms and applications. The LiquidIQ system does away with traditional server and switch configurations by using software to define logical infrastructure components, such as servers and gateways, but also including firewalls and VPNs, in a bid to increase network flexibility and reduce costs.


Meanwhile, ATTO Technology just received interoperability verification from Brocade for the Celerity FC-42ES Fibre Channel HBA. The "Data Center Ready" status allows ATTO to claim end-to-end compatibility for 4G and 8G Fibre Channel across Brocade's SAN fabric infrastructure products, including the new DCX Backbone switch. The move also allows Brocade more flexibility in forging links across heterogeneous storage environments.


Mac users aren't likely to be left out of the fabric either. QLogic announced this month that its SANbox 5600Q series of Fibre Channel stackable switches is available for Mac OS X. The unit scales from eight to 96 ports and is optimized for the VTrak E-Class RAID subsystem from Promise Technology, which recently qualified for the Apple's Xsan 2 storage area network.


Open source houses also have a seat at the table. The OpenFabrics Alliance is gathering more hardware support for version 1.3 of its OpenFabrics Enterprise Distribution (OFED) aimed at providing a transport-independent software stack supporting IP, Sockets, SAN, NAS, CFS and other environments. The system includes built-in support for 1 G and 10 GbE Ethernet adapters from NetEffect, a founding member of the alliance. The devices help reduce traffic overhead by offloading transport and RDMA acceleration functions and providing a single firmware and OS drive image.


If you ask any one of these vendors what fabric technology is and what capabilities it will bring to the enterprise, you'll find that they all have very clear visions to back up their systems. And in all likelihood, those visions will prove correct. But just as virtualization turned out to be much more than a cool way to improve server utilization, I have a feeling we won't see the full potential of these fabrics until users get their hands on them.