Waiting, Watching, Hoping for Fibre Channel over Ethernet


Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) is finally here. Who wants to go first?

The steady rollout of FCoE equipment is continuing at a steady stream, and to be fair there are already a number of showcase installations that prove that multiple storage protocols can be unified on a single fabric, reducing both operating costs and complexity even as data loads increase.

What, then, could hamper this steady march toward networking nirvana? How about capital costs? Network World's Jim Duffy butonholed a few vendors at Interop last week, who admitted that the time is not yet right for widespread FCoE deployments, primarily because costs are still too high, we think. That's because we still haven't been graced with per-port prices on the newest FCoE switches. Cisco even laughably revealed that the Nexus 5000 will run about $900 per 10 GbE port, but remained mum on the subject of FCoE pricing. But you have to figure that FCoE will probably run a premium over current FC costs, which already range from $1,100 to $1,800 for a measly 4 Gbps port.

And yet the industry remains undaunted. The Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) revealed the results of its second annual FCoE Plugfest held at the University of New Hampshire's Interoperability Lab. The event was designed to showcase the compatibility of FCoE end devices with data center bridge exchange (DCBx) switches, showing how the devices can work together on such features as priority flow control, priority-based traffic separation and general Ethernet interoperability under the Converged Enhanced Ethernent (CEE) framework. The event drew many of the leading vendors like Brocade, Cisco, HP, Intel, Mellanox, Microsoft, NetApp and QLogic.


The format is getting support from the leading server platforms as well. IBM announced this week that it will integrate QLogic's 8100 converged network adapter (CNA) across all of its top server lines, including the newest BladeCenter and System x devices. The move brings native FCoE to the platforms and provides a bridge to QLogic's new high-speed Pass-thru Module that will provide a direct XAUI-based connection from servers to the external optical media ports on many FCoE devices -- a key move for integrators now that IBM is reselling Brocade's switch and router lines.

That line will now include the new 8000 switch, a multi-protocol, Layer 2, top-of-the-rack FCoE unit outfitted with 24 10 GbE CEE ports and eight 8 Gbps FC ports. The company also added new single-port and dual-port CNAs to its lineup capable of 500,000 IOPS, all of which is tied together with the Brocade Fabric OS and the Data Center Fabric Management (DCFM) management stack. Still, though, no pricing on the FCoE ports.

A good friend of mine once told me that economies of scale are a real bugger. Sure, you get the price down eventually, but you really have to leap over those first few hurdles to get your momentum going.

There's no doubt there will be a healthy market for FCoE by virtue of the fact that many data centers are not yet ready to give up their FC infrastructures just yet. But that's what the military calls a rearguard action (and what the rest of us would describe as covering your a**). A healthier prospect would be a technology that engenders new deployments -- one that IT managers feel comfortable with as their basic network fabric.

Ethernet has that cache. Fibre Channel does not.