In my early days in this industry, there was a topology battle between Ethernet and Token Ring. Token Ring was just about to release an amazingly fast 16MB/s version. It was interesting to watch IBM representatives, still in suits and ties then, draw a circle on the board and make analogies to Token Ring and the railroad. They were making the case that Token Ring was going be the infrastructure of choice and that Ethernet's time had come.
In one such session, I made the comment that while the railroad is/was known for precision, an airplane can start late and land late but still beat a train to its destination. Speed often wins over precision and as we all know Ethernet won that battle, handily. Along the way there have been many attempts to dethrone Ethernet and they all just keep failing. The closest battle was using Ethernet as transport for storage protocols vs. SCSI or Fibre Channel. While I expect Fibre Channel in its native form to continue on for some time, Ethernet will eventually carry the majority of storage traffic.
The only real stumbling block for large scale FCoE deployments is the complications of Spanning Tree Protocol (STP). As we discuss in our recent article, "What is TRILL's Role in FCoE Storage Networks?", Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL), should fix many of the issues that storage and large networks in general have with STP. These problems are being exacerbated by the convergence of storage onto Ethernet and the increasing workload of server virtualization. TRILL will provide us with multi-path layer 2 networking allowing for use of the idle network bandwidth that STP essentially blocks.
Of course, prior to FCoE, we have already seen the growing use of NAS as more than just a file-sharing protocol. We have seen it used for databases and virtual machine images. iSCSI of course still continues to move along providing block access to storage across IP. Finally, new uses of Ethernet like ATA of Ethernet (AoE) are bringing high-performance to the protocol without as much overhead. In short, the storage protocol choices on Ethernet are astounding.
I/O Virtualization (IOV) technologies and cluster interconnects that leverage high-speed Ethernet now threaten the PCI/e and Infiniband architectures. The advantage that the Ethernet systems have is built-in connectivity and scale with a readily available chip set. In theory, versions of this interconnect technology could be built right onto server motherboards. Imagine a server with built-in IOV capability or a special server class designed for clustering with the server interconnect already built in. Will Ethernet win in these emerging use cases? There is no guarantee, but given Ethernet's track record, I don't think I will be betting against it.George Crump is president and founder of Storage Switzerland, an IT analyst firm focused on the storage and virtualization segments. With 25 years of experience designing storage solutions for datacenters across the US, he has seen the birth of such technologies as RAID, NAS, ... View Full Bio