HP and QLogic have pushed the ball forward in next generation networking and virtualization with an HP Flexfabric 10Gb/24 blade switch that allows the switch port to be configured as a Fiber Channel, FCoE, iSCSI and Ethernet port simultaneously. Flexfabric drives home HP's wire-once strategy. It's an industry first, and it's likely that other networking vendors will follow suit.
The single port on the Flexfabric 10gb/24 card can be sliced up four ways into what are called FlexNICs. FlexNICs are virtual NICs that are presented to the virtualized operating systems. The 10Gb capacity can configured in 100Mbps increments that can be allocated to each FlexNIC as you see fit. For example, you create four FlexNICs each carrying 2Gbs of traffic each, or one Flexfabric NIC carrying 6Gb of traffic and one Flexfabric NIC carrying 2Gb of traffic. The allocations can be defined and changed while the hypervisor and virtual machines are running, which means no downtime.
But wait, there's more. The new Flexfabric 10gb/24 blade switch contains QLogic's FCoE ASIC (codenamed Bullet), that not only supports Flexfabric, but each Flexnic can run Fibre Channel, FCoE, iSCSI or Ethernet. That's multiple and simultaneous protocol support on a single physical port.
"In a virtual environment, the physical interface shouldn't matter, and now [with the Flexfabric NIC] it doesn't," said Stu Miniman, principle research contributor, Wikibon.
Flexfabric is going to change how devices are connecting to data and storage networks. Today, administrators have to decide what a physical port is going to be used for: storage or data? Once the port is wired up, it keeps that function until it is rewired. Data center architects have taken that limitation into account when designing data center networks and allocating ports to functions, but Flexfabric removes that limitation entirely by making any port support any protocol. Granted, you probably won't change the nature of a port while a virtual machine is using it, but it greatly simplifies functions like moving virtual machines from server to server.
What's missing is the network side of Flexfabric. Until now, top of rack, end of row, or core switches have supported Flexfabric, so you will still have to decide where the uplink ports go, to an Ethernet or SAN switch? But changing a port is a simple matter of moving the uplink port. We suspect that HP will extend Flexfabric throughout their switching line.