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NetApp on FCoE

Today I take a look at the views of NetApp, a pioneering Ethernet storage vendor, on the burning question of the day in storage -- is there a consensus in the industry on the adoption of FCoE? I've been asking three questions to gather views from vendors and end users.

I put Mike McNamara, a product marketing executive at NetApp, on the FCoE Hot Seat and asked whether the industry is finally going to converge on Ethernet-based storage. He pointed out that industry has been moving to Ethernet-based storage (iSCSI, NFS, CIFS) for many years. The significance of his comment to me is that it points out that FCoE is not a revolutionary technology. Instead, FCoE is an evolutionary technology built on some hard lessons learned from the introduction of Fibre Channel and iSCSI -- the most painful of which was incompatibility with existing and popular network operational models. Graduating from the school of hard knocks, the industry designed FCoE to be backward compatible with the Fibre Channel operational model and massive installed base. Data center managers may need new infrastructure to support CEE, but at least they don't have to learn and implement a whole new set of storage networking conventions. I can't argue with NetApp's answer that traditional Fibre Channel will be a very large market for some time to come, but FCoE will accelerate the move from Fibre Channel and, ultimately, convergence on Ethernet.

Regarding NetApp's position in the transition to FCoE, McNamara again set the stage by defining the end game for NetApp and its customers: multi-protocol storage over Ethernet. This is not new for NetApp. The company pioneered the jump from file servers on Ethernet to toaster-like NAS appliances. NetApp also pioneered now-popular Ethernet-based iSCSI storage and has ridden the success of these inventions, plus support for Fibre Channel, to over $3 billion in annual revenue. NetApp has stuck to its vision of storage over Ethernet for a dozen years. But looking backward, Ethernet is still the tail and Fibre Channel is still the body on the big networked-storage dog. Fortunately, as some in the storage vendor community struggle to make the transition from Fibre Channel to Ethernet, the future is bright for companies, such as NetApp, with a rich Ethernet technology portfolio and a loyal customer base to build on.

Answering the third question, McNamara did not hesitate to lay out when NetApp sees FCoE storage in the mainstream. Early use of FCoE will focus on technology evaluations and pilots in calendar year 2009, with use in production environments and converged networks starting in calendar 2010. I believe NetApp may be up to a year ahead of the other major storage vendors. So if I define "mainstream" as including one or more other major storage vendors, it looks to me more like 2011 for FCoE storage in the mainstream.

IT professionals appear to be recognizing NetApp for their pioneering development and marketing of FCoE Storage. In the "March 2009 IT Brand Pulse Leader Survey," NetApp was selected by IT professionals as the FCoE Storage Market Leader, Performance Leader, and Innovation Leader.

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