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The Promise of FCoE

10:50 AM -- I received an email the other day pitching a market analysis report on Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). Looking at it before my first cup of coffee kicked in, I started thinking about both FCoE and this kind of emerging market analysis. The vendor will remain nameless, as my observations and general snarkiness are based on many such reports from many firms over the years.

Firstly, have you ever seen a "State of the Industry" report in the first two years of an industry that didn't say, "This is just what the market needs and is the best thing since sliced bread"? After all, it's industry folks they're trying to get to spend $5,000 a pop for the reports. The guy trying to convince his bosses that they need to add CEE and/or FCoE to their switches or come up with a new line of CNAs is going to be glad to buy the report to support his position.

To some extent, market analysts are like stock analysts -- they never give a Sell signal. A recent story in The New York Times revealed that even over the past year, with the market tanking, over 90 percent of stock analysis resulted in Buy recommendations. Come to think of it, that's a good business. I could write Polyanna reports about each new technology as it comes around and would just have to sell two copies of each to make it pay better than journalism. (Of course, standing on the street corner selling apples might pay better than journalism, too.)

As to FCoE, I think it has promise for enterprise users. It has more promise for the existing FC vendors. As packaged, you'll still need special high-priced switches for five to eight years as the switch has to do CEE/DCE (which will be a strictly Foundry/Cisco thing for at least two years as there's no demand for the extra cost outside FCoE), as well as the naming and other FC-specific stuff that network guys have put in servers on the net (DNS, DHCP, etc.), as opposed to in the net itself. The switch guys can now leverage Ethernet commodity components and not have to develop, say, the PHY for 16-Gbit/s FC, which would cost big bucks and sell small numbers.

Using two to four copper (even if twinax, although 10GBase-T will come) cables per server makes much sense as opposed to two to four fibers and two to four coppers. One set of network management tools (both OpenView for link up/down and protocol analyzers) makes sense, too. Of course, the gleaming white papers I've seen supporting FCoE claim the average server has four Fibre Channel and eight GigE cables. After all, the math works better if you exaggerate the starting point just a little.

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