This week NetApp announced they'd start shipping filers with QLogic CNAs, adding FCoE to the long list of storage access protocols they support on their flagship platform. Since they've been demonstrating FCoE access with first generation QLogic CNAs for months, I wasn't surprised. The real questions are: how much will being first with FCoE help NetApp in their quest for block storage mindshare? And, does FCoE on the storage back end matter?
Why was NetApp first? Well, part of the answer is that it was comparatively easy for NetApp to do add FCoE. Other storage vendors have to design new hardware to connect their proprietary storage systems to Data Center Bridging compatible Ethernet. NetApps x86 file servers use a PCIe, and have been using off-the-shelf hardware from Qlogic for FC for years. The Unified Targe Adapter performs the FCoE protocol encapsulation/decapsulation and passes FC upto to the OS driver--the same OS drivers for NetApp's Fibre Channel adapters.
Since Qlogic's 8512 CNA uses the same API as the FC HBAs, all they had to do was drop the new card in the filer head ends and viola FCoE. Of course NetApp had to qualify the hardware, tweak the software, test it extensively and update all the manuals, but it was still an easier process than adding FCoE to V-Max.
I expect Compellent, Xiotech, Reldata and the rest of the block and unified storage vendors, not to mention virtualization specialists DataCore and FalconStor, that use PCIe servers as controllers, to follow NetApp's lead. Those vendors primarily target the midmarket where FCoE's virtues aren't as big a deal as in the enterprise and hosting markets, where datacenters have over 250 servers.
The other part of the answer is that NetApp wants to expand out from the enterprise NAS market. The current FAS filer is like a Swiss army knife. CIFS and NFS are the main blades, iSCSI the can opener you use every day in the woods (at least if malt beverages are as important to the camping experience as they were when I went camping), and Fibre Channel access one of the minor attachments. As far as most enterprise customers are concerned, it doesn't matter how well NetApp does Fibre Channel block storage, they have no mindshare for that application.