Howard Marks

Network Computing Blogger

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Where the Cloud Touches Down: Simplifying Data Center Infrastructure Management

Thursday, July 25, 2013
10:00 AM PT/1:00 PM ET

In most data centers, DCIM rests on a shaky foundation of manual record keeping and scattered documentation. OpManager replaces data center documentation with a single repository for data, QRCodes for asset tracking, accurate 3D mapping of asset locations, and a configuration management database (CMDB). In this webcast, sponsored by ManageEngine, you will see how a real-world datacenter mapping stored in racktables gets imported into OpManager, which then provides a 3D visualization of where assets actually are. You'll also see how the QR Code generator helps you make the link between real assets and the monitoring world, and how the layered CMDB provides a single point of view for all your configuration data.

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A Network Computing Webinar:
SDN First Steps

Thursday, August 8, 2013
11:00 AM PT / 2:00 PM ET

This webinar will help attendees understand the overall concept of SDN and its benefits, describe the different conceptual approaches to SDN, and examine the various technologies, both proprietary and open source, that are emerging. It will also help users decide whether SDN makes sense in their environment, and outline the first steps IT can take for testing SDN technologies.

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FCoE: The Latest Standard We Don't Need

Last month a group of vendors, including Brocade, Cisco, Emulex, Intel and QLogic, announced yet another Fibre Channel over Ethernet protocol that encapsulates the Fibre Channel Protocol (FCP) in an Ethernet frame so Fibre Channel data can be carried across 10 Gigabit Ethernet connections. So FCoE joins iSCSI, iFCP and FCIP as yet another way to carry storage data across an Ethernet network. As professor Andrew S. Tanenbaum once said, "The nice thing about standards is that there are so many of them to choose from."

The big difference between Fibre Channel over Ethernet and the others is that FCoE eschews IP and sends FC data directly down the Ethernet. Depending on who you talk to, this is either the long-awaited common infrastructure that can run standard network and storage applications--yielding FC behavior and management at Ethernet prices while reducing both world hunger and global warming--or the last gasp of the FC industry about to drown in the tsunami that is iSCSI. I think it's mostly the latter; here's how I see the arguments shaking out.

FCoE's proponents claim that avoiding the computing cost of calculating all those pesky TCP windows and checksums is an advantage. That makes me wonder why storage guys are afraid of TCP. Today's servers are crammed full of multicore, multigigahertz processors and use Gigabit Ethernet chips from Broadcom and Intel that off-load much of the heavy lifting of TCP, so even several gigabits per second of TCP traffic uses just a small percentage of available CPU. If you throw enough cheap computing cycles and bandwidth at a problem, you don't need to tweak your protocols to be especially efficient. Giving up on IP makes FCoE unroutable, limiting its use to links--or at least VLANs--dedicated to storage traffic. Why bother with a new protocol?

So, what would FCoE buy a SAN admin? It allows the use of 10-Gbps Ethernet links, boosting available SAN bandwidth, but very few servers generate more traffic than a 4-Mbps FC link can handle. And of course, important servers that generate that kind of traffic should have two FC HBAs and a multipath driver for reliability. That boosts their available bandwidth to 8 Gbps, and even fewer servers will fill that pipe. Faster storage-to-switch and inter-switch links could be more attractive, but QLogic already has 10-Gbps FC ISLs.

One of the reasons most large enterprise shops haven't adopted iSCSI is the political squabbling between the storage group, which owns the FC SAN, and the networking group, which owns the Ethernet infrastructure on which iSCSI runs. The storage group doesn't want to have the network group managing switches on the SAN.

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