Walking & Talking FCoE

For now, the question for Brocade is 'Where's the beef?'

Tom Trainer

April 8, 2009

3 Min Read
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As I mentioned in my last blog on this topic, there will be other new announcements on the way in the area of Fibre Channel over Ethernet. In fact, over the next few months we very well may be in store for a stream of server, network, and storage product announcements that focus on, or include, FCoE. On April 7, Brocade announced a new FCoE switch, Model 8000, and first-generation Converged Network Adapters (CNAs), Models 1010 and 1020. The new FCoE switch accepts inputs from the new CNAs. The switch takes the CNA input and routes Fibre Channel traffic to Fibre Channel arrays across 8-Gbit/s Fibre Channel links while routing Ethernet traffic off to the local-area network (LAN). The new switch has both Fibre Channel and Ethernet ports on it, 24 10-Gig Ethernet ports, and eight Fibre Channel ports supporting 8 Gbit/s.

Brocade's announcement indicates they will provide an end-to-end FCoE solution, with the FCoE switch designed to help customers migrate to a unified network. Brocade's CNA and switch solution seems to be positioned to address pain points customers have with separate Ethernet and Fibre Channel networks and how their new end-to-end solution can help customers migrate to a single network.

On its surface, the Brocade announcement seems to be solutions-oriented; however it leaves me concerned over vendor lock-in and building proprietary network solutions that do not interoperate with companies such as QLogic or Emulex. Many data center managers are looking to leverage the same Fibre Channel stack they currently have in place today, and moving to alternative CNA/switch providers, such as Brocade, is a heavy duty change in the data center -- perhaps more than just a simple migration.

It would have been more logical for Brocade to announce an FCoE switch that was widely interoperable with multiple converged network adapters, as opposed to appearing to make a grab for the whole enchilada and vying for control of the data center's entire FCoE infrastructure. More open approaches to the transition to FCoE will win out over what appears to be a proprietary endeavor. Perhaps Brocade's strategy will evolve over time to a more open connectivity architecture. Or maybe not.

It remains to be seen how this new switch and CNA from Brocade will stack up to, say, QLogic. which is working in an open ecosystem manner with vendors such as Cicso, Dell, and IBM. This kind of openness is common in the Ethernet connectivity world, and we shouldn't settle for proprietary solutions as Fibre Channel-over-Ethernet evolves.As data centers contemplate the transition to FCoE, it is extremely important to discern who is talking the talk as opposed to who is actually walking the walk. Users should look closely at companies that have been shipping production-level products for some time, and who have evolved into next-phase, or next-generation, technologies as opposed to the newly announced "next great thing." Equally important is openness and interoperability, and avoiding vendor lock-ins where possible so that you retain your freedom of choice. For now, the question for Brocade is "Wheres the beef?"

— Tom Trainer is founder and president of analyst firm Analytico. Prior to founding Analytico, Trainer was managing senior partner at Evaluator Group, and has also worked at EMC, HDS, Auspex, and Memorex-Telex during his 30-year career in IT.

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