IT managers consider FCOE to cut through their cabling problems

October 18, 2007

3 Min Read
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DALLAS -- Storage Networking World -- Although still in its infancy, Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE) has already started to grab the attention of users keen to boost the performance of their existing data center kit and make sense of their cabling nightmares.

"This is something that I have got to have," said keynote speaker Steve Fastook, vice president of technical and commercial operations at Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based CNBC during his talk here today. The exec explained that CNBC would like to boost the performance of storage without ripping and replacing huge chunks of its existing infrastructure.

"We have 10 million feet of cable, just in Englewood," he told Byte and Switch, explaining that the 18-inch deep floors in his computer rooms are currently packed with cables. "We have a couple of cable lengths that are up to 1,000 feet."

A number of vendors have jumped on the FCOE bandwagon this week, most notably QLogic, which teamed up with NetApp and Cisco-owned Nuova Systems to demo an FCOE converged network adapter (CNA) expected to be available in the first half of next year.

First proposed earlier this year, the FCOE spec is aimed at enabling SAN traffic to be natively transported over Ethernet networks. Vendors such as QLogic and NetApp are now touting the technology as a way for users to keep their cabling infrastructures from spiraling out of control by combining server and storage networking through a single cable.This message struck a chord with CNBC, which already uses "dozens" of QLogic HBAs and two of the vendor's switches within its 240-Tbyte disk storage infrastructure. "We could upgrade the [Fibre Channel] line on either end and keep the existing cable base," said Fastook, explaining that CNBC is about to start testing QLogic's CNA.

Vendors are beating the drum on FCOE. QLogic switch rival Emulex also announced a partnership with Nuova this week, and Brocade has been demoing its own offerings in this space.

In addition to CNBC, other users are also eager to find out more about FCOE. "Our company is going to be looking at it," said Rob Rees, senior systems architect of Bothell, Wash.-based pharmaceutical company ICOS, explaining that he likes the idea of tying server and storage networking together through secure Fibre Channel links. "We're moving into a SAN solution sometime over the next 24 months, so it's something we have got to be looking at."

Despite all the FCOE hype, the technology, which has been presented by at least one of its proponents as a direct competitor to iSCSI, remains controversial. At this stage, there are still no FCOE deployments that could serve as benchmarks for users, and the technology is adding yet another layer of complexity to IT managers' purchasing decisions.

Another barrier to FCOE is the fact that many organizations are simply averse to change. "Large enterprise customers don't like to change -- I like to joke that there's a lot of banks with OS2," said Darren Thomas, vice president and general manager of enterprise storage at Dell, during a keynote today. "Many are very comfortable with Fibre Channel."The exec nonetheless thinks that FCOE will eventually carve out its niche. "It's an interesting technology," he explained. "iSCSI is going to come from the SMB, Fibre will be in the [high-end] corporate world, and FCOE will be in the middle."Have a comment on this story? Please click "Discuss" below. If you'd like to contact Byte and Switch's editors directly, send us a message.

  • Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Dell Inc. (Nasdaq: DELL)

  • Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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