Last week I invited the Byte and Switch readership and a handful of leading vendors to answer three questions in order to get apples-to-apples feedback and to find out if there is industry consensus that adoption of Fibre Channel over Ethernet is a slam-dunk.
Hewlett-Packard's Kyle Fitze, StorageWorks storage platforms marketing director, delivered some surprising responses to my questions that broke the spell I was under from all the FCoE hype. He didn't directly answer the question of whether FCoE is evidence that the storage industry is finally moving to converge on Ethernet, and said HP prefers to speak for itself and not the industry and that the company will support and encourage the adoption of FCoE, but primarily on the network edge.
At first I was surprised by this response, but after an eloquent explanation from Fitze, I agree that for the next several years FCoE will serve primarily as a bridge from servers on the edge of the data center, to Fibre Channel storage in the core. Fitze also noted that HP made some significant investments in iSCSI scale-out architectures with their acquisition of LeftHand that they'll continue to develop because they see a lot of value in virtual SANs for virtual servers running iSCSI.
HP is less bullish on the wholesale adoption of FCoE devices, which makes me think that FCoE vendors have some serious catchup to do if they want to displace growing amounts of Fibre Channel and iSCSI in the data center. By the time native FCoE storage emerges a few years from now, the momentum created by customer installation of millions more iSCSI and Fibre Channel ports, and the customer investment of billions more dollars, will slow the adoption of FCoE storage. Either way, HP is developing flexible, multi-protocol devices to support its customers.
HP is positioning itself for the transition -- whenever it happens -- by adding FCoE products to its gigantic portfolio. Fitze explained that HP sees FCoE today as a useful top-of-rack solution for servers on the edge of the data center. Clearly they plan to innovate in edge switches within the rack using technologies like Virtual Connect to simplify management. Since nowadays these servers are loaded with virtual machines and a corresponding aggregation of I/O, FCoE will help data center administrators connect these servers to the Fibre Channel storage they already know and love.