Intel Gooses FCOE

Chip vendor looks to open source in an attempt to drive FCOE forward

December 20, 2007

3 Min Read
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Intel has cranked up its Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE) effort, unveiling an open source software initiator for running the protocol on the Linux operating system.

Despite the fact that the networking spec is still in its infancy, Intel is nonetheless eyeing what its sees as a major opportunity around FCOE.

"The goal is to create a reliable FCOE initiator stack that will be integrated into Linux distributions," says Jordan Plawner, storage product planner at Intel. "We're following all the steps that are necessary to get kernel integration and distribution support."

The vendor's long-term goal is a situation whereby Linux servers ship FCOE-ready, according to Plawner. "What we're saying is that every server should ship FCOE-ready in the same way that servers ship iSCSI-ready [today]."

Big words, but at least one analyst thinks this is a distinct possibility. "I think that it's very doable and very likely," says Bob Wheeler, senior analyst at the Linley Group. "Intel's strategy is to get out there early with this open source code, knowing that it will take quite a lot of time to get into the Linux distributions. My view is that we will see trials of FCOE in the second half of 2008, but we won't see any substantial volume shipments until 2009."Intel's Plawner told Byte and Switch that, although Red Hat and Novell have not yet committed to building the FCOE initiator into their Linux offerings, he is hopeful this will happen.

"We have had discussions with them, and they have validated that we're taking all the right steps," he says. "It's the community support that gets you into the distributions."

First proposed earlier this year by a group of vendors spearheaded by Cisco, which included IBM, Intel, and Sun, the FCOE spec is aimed at enabling SAN traffic to be natively transported over Ethernet networks.

FCOE is also being touted as an alternative to iSCSI, thanks largely to its compatibility with existing storage, drivers, and management tools.

"FCOE is the right protocol to connect Intel servers to existing Fibre Channel SANs," says Plawner. "Because Fibre Channel SANs are not being replaced by iSCSI, Fibre Channel remains dominant in enterprise-class data centers."Storage vendors that have already thrown their weight behind FCOE include QLogic, NetApp, Nuova, Emulex, and Brocade, which demonstrated its own FCOE offerings earlier this year.

Despite increasing noise about FCOE, there are still some lingering concerns about the non-routable nature of the technology, something which has already been identified as a potential obstacle for FCOE deployments.

This is unlikely to be an issue, according to Linley Group's Wheeler. "In my view, FCOE and iSCSI will find different homes in large SANs," he says, explaining that the non-routable nature of FCOE is unlikely to be an issue within enterprise data centers. "For remote data center SAN connections or backup operations, iSCSI is appropriate."

In a Byte and Switch poll earlier this year, more than a third of respondents identified FCOE as a solid alternative to iSCSI, although a similar number said they would never be convinced of the technology's merits.

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  • Brocade Communications Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: BRCD)

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)

  • The Linley Group

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • Novell Inc. (Nasdaq: NOVL)

  • QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC)

  • Red Hat Inc. (Nasdaq: RHAT)

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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