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Cisco on FCoE: Masters of Convergence

While watching the Zen Master Phil Jackson coach my Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA championship, I was reminded of how skillfully Cisco has led a collaboration of high-powered vendors towards a common goal.

If analysts could vote each year for one company to receive a trophy for being MVP of unified networks, this year I would vote for Cisco based on its leading role in the development of FCoE. Since day one the company has been at the forefront of FCoE technology and market development. Cisco helped drive the definition of FCoE standards. Cisco pioneered the first switch ASIC technology. Cisco even designed chips for the HBA vendors to kick-start the first generation of converged network adapters. The first FCoE switches, CNAs and native storage introduced in 2008 were all powered by Cisco ASIC technology. Many companies share credit for their roles in getting the FCoE market so far so fast. But we would not be anticipating the OEM launches of FCoE networks later in 2009 without this massive investment by Cisco.

The company that vendors either blame for their unified networking misery or give credit for new opportunity agreed to let me evaluate their perspective on FCoE. Omar Sultan of Cisco's Data Center Solutions team responded to the same three questions I asked of Brocade, HP, IBM, Intel, Mellanox and NetApp.

After being asked, "With FCoE, do you believe the storage industry is finally moving to converge on Ethernet?" Omar deftly explained the benefits of FCoE that make it compelling to SAN administrators.

  • There are hard cost savings due to fewer HBAs, cables, power and cooling.
  • CEE / FCoE networking gear bolts onto existing iSCSI and Fibre Channel Networks.
  • IT can migrate SANs at their own pace. Start with CEE / FCoE switches and CNAs and prove the hard cost savings. Then add native FCoE storage if and when it makes sense in the future.

I agree with Omar on all three counts. Technology to consolidate the benefits of Ethernet, Fibre Channel and InfiniBand, plus increase network utilization, is long overdue.  But the technology and products are still unproven so it's a good idea for SAN administrators to start slow.

Addressing the next question, Omar said that Cisco is well positioned for the transition.  The company behind the convergence of data and voice onto Ethernet now offers its customers a graceful path to storage unification with a choice of pure Ethernet, pure Fibre Channel and FCoE converged networks.  I am completely amazed at how the masters of convergence somehow managed to get several football teams (Fibre Channel vendors) and soccer teams (InfiniBand vendors) to play for all the marbles in a new basketball (Ethernet) league against the perennial world champion Cisco team.  I think Cisco is well positioned to succeed in the new league.

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