FCOE Group Claims Milestone

Standards participants say progress on the spec is moving along energetically

February 14, 2008

4 Min Read
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In news highlighting the growing momentum behind Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE), participants in the standards-setting effort say they hit a milestone during a meeting last week.

"We resolved the last major controversy -- well, the last controversy that had people really holding their ground," says Robert Snively, a Brocade principal engineer and committee member.

"This was the last major technical area that needed to be closed," says Joe Gervais, senior marketing director at Emulex, whose company sent three representatives to last week's meeting.

In Austin, Texas, on Feb. 6, members of the group tasked with standardizing FCOE (specifics on that momentarily) agreed on a common addressing format for devices and hosts in an FCOE networks. The new format allows both servers and network switches to assign MAC addresses. The resolution followed arguments about whether servers should take precedence over switches, or vice versa.

The kerfuffle over addresses was the latest of several the FCOE group has surmounted since beginning its work last year. With that out of the way, the group hopes for -- but is not committing to -- a June 2008 date for a complete spec that's ready for a ratification vote.This isn't to say there will be fully standardized FCOE networks in big-name shops anytime soon. By most accounts, it could take up to two years for FCOE to catch on as a mainstream data center protocol. That said, it's unlikely vendors will wait for an official spec before releasing products.

QLogic, for example, claims to have FCOE trials in place with a handful of enterprise sites. "We're ready and testing with network and OEM partners," says QLogic VP of marketing Frank Berry. He also concedes that QLogic may release a prestandard product.

Emulex would, too. "I expect we won't have all the 'i's' properly dotted before products emerge," says Emulex's Joe Gervais.

Both Emulex and QLogic are working on the HBAs for FCOE, properly referred to as CNAs, or converged network adapters.

A range of other vendors have FCOE products in varying stages of development. Brocade and Cisco say it's incorporated in their respective backbone switches, the DCX and Nexus. Word has it Emulex's and QLogic's CNAs will be based on chips from cagey Cisco-funded Nuova Systems.For its part, Nuova confirms that it's working on chips but stresses that its work isn't restricted to either FCOE or to components for FCOE. No one at Nuova, though, is willing to explain the company's strategy any further.

The standardization of FCOE has been somewhat confusing to the outside world. To review: While industry groups like the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) are tasked with publicizing FCOE, creation of the spec is being handled by the FC-BB-5 (Fibre Channel Backbone - 5) Ad Hoc Group of the T11 committee of the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS). In the complicated and hierarchical world of technology standards, T11 controls the general specs for the Fibre Channel protocol -- although that is not all it does. INCITS, T11's umbrella organization, links to international technology standards bodies.

All of the major storage vendors have participated in the work so far. At last week's meeting, for instance, Brocade sent seven delegates; Cisco, 6; EMC, 3; Emulex, 4; HP, 2; IBM, 5; LSI, 1; NetApp, 1; Nuova Systems, 4; QLogic, 2; and Sun, 2. There were also representatives from Blade Network Technologies, Ciena, ENDL Texas, Intel, Mellanox, Microsoft, Nortel, Panduit, PMC-Sierra, Solution Technology, True Focus, and VMware.

There are other standards efforts underway that probably won't be finalized before FCOE is completed. The IEEE, for instance, is working in two committees on modifications to Ethernet that would guarantee "lossless" behavior, as opposed to the packet-dropping tendencies of any TCP/IP protocol.

The IEEE efforts include the 802.1Qau and P802.3ar. Together with other IEEE groups undertaking congestion management for use with FCOE and other protocols, these efforts are generally termed "data center Ethernet."Gervais thinks the need for the IEEE protocols will vary among customers. "Fibre Channel customers are conservative, and they will introduce FCOE in phases," he says. "You can go to the top of a rack switch and convert immediately to FCOE at the network edge. But congestion management [from the IEEE specs] will be more important to those using FCOE in the core of their networks."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.

  • Blade Network Technologies Inc.

  • Broadcom Corp. (Nasdaq: BRCM)

  • Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

  • Ciena Corp. (Nasdaq: CIEN)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC)

  • Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX)

  • Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA)

  • Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE)

  • InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS)

  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)

  • LSI Corp. (NYSE: LSI)

  • Mellanox Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: MLNX),li>Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Nortel Networks Ltd. (NYSE/Toronto: NT)

  • Panduit Corp.

  • PMC-Sierra Inc. (Nasdaq: PMCS)

  • QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC)

  • Solution Technology Inc.

  • Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq: SUNW)

  • VMware Inc.

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