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Chelsio's FCoE Protocol Pile-on

Just days after unveiling an end-to-end strategy encompassing numerous storage devices and an update to its Unified Storage Server software, storage solutions provider Chelsio Communications added Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) support to its line of 10Gb Unified Wire Ethernet adapters. This permits high-performance FC storage systems to be deployed on a company's existing Ethernet network, rather than requiring a separate SAN. Pricing of the cards will be unchanged. "The benefit is consolidation," said Kianoosh Naghshineh, president and CEO of Chelsio in a phone interview Thursday. "If you can manage both clustering and storage in Ethernet, you have to buy fewer switches, fewer gateways and fewer fabrics. You also need fewer IT personnel, and everything is on Ethernet, which people know how to use." The protocol is implemented as a free driver upgrade, available now, and is documented on Chelsio's download page

Analyst David Hill, principle with the Mesabi Group and Network Computing contributor, agrees with Naghshineh's assertion. "IT people want anything that can help them do their job better and help to save them money," he says. "If FCoE meets those requirements for their particular situation, they will want it." Chelsio's initial implementation uses the Open-FCoE specification, which Naghshineh said will help ensure compatibility with existing IT infrastructure. The company also is developing a separate host-bus adapter implementing the protocol, which he expects to begin shipping in the first half of this year.

The trend toward consolidation of the data center--hastened by virtualization--has given rise to the protocol pile-on. According to Naghshineh, a server equipped with a Chelsio Unified Wire Ethernet adapter is able to control networking, storage and cluster communications through that single card. "So instead of plugging in InfiniBand and Ethernet cards, they can do it in one card that runs those different protocols, allowing InfiniBand applications to run unmodified, and handling iSCSI traffic on same wire at same time," he said. "FCoE is not one of the major driving forces, such as server virtualization, of data center consolidation, but anything that helps move in that direction is welcome."

Sure, it's all fun and games until someone gets hurt. "Putting more packet types on the same cable is generally a good thing, as cable sprawl has been the nemesis of IT for what seems like an eternity," said Hill. "However, that is only true as long as no unforeseen problems crop up that could affect performance and reliability. Vendors recognize that they have to satisfy their customers that no problems will occur. "

Naghshineh says that unlike Emulex, Qlogic and other competitors, Chelsio has always intended to be a multi-protocol provider. "We're not betting the farm on any one technology. You used to have a few companies on each corner doing their own thing," he said, "and each had its specialty. Now that the fabrics are converging, they're all chasing the same piece of cheese." How Chelsio differentiates, he said, is by providing a one-wire solution from the start, adding protocols as they come along. "Unlike most competitors, when you do a little clustering, a little storage and a little networking, we can afford to give stuff for free. And we claim to be the only ones doing this."