The Hidden News of FCOE

Despite lots of moving parts and vested interests, FCOE appears to be on track

February 22, 2008

4 Min Read
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The latest progress report on the Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE) standard last week turned up a number of surprises. Here's a list of the news behind the news:

  • FCOE is getting off the ground. This could surprise some skeptics. Introduced nearly a year ago, FCOE initially impressed many observers as a strong-arm tactic by Cisco to protect its vested interest in selling FC switches -- a slap in the face of iSCSI, as it were. But support from a range of big players, which has been building over the last few months, tells a different tale.

    Proof points include the partnership among Nuova Systems (the startup funded by Cisco to develop FCOE silicon), NetApp, and QLogic, which led to a demonstration of working products at a tradeshow in October 2007. Emulex also threw its weight behind a Nuova deal in the same timeframe. In December, Intel goosed FCOE with open-source development support. Last month, FCOE was a selling point cited by Brocade for its nascent DCX backbone switch, which has been OEM'd by IBM and others. And predictably, FCOE factored big in Cisco's Nexus announcement

  • Suppliers aren't waiting to dot the "i"s. Granted, a lot of FCOE activity depends on successful completion of the standardization work. But both Emulex and QLogic have stated their intent to ship nonstandard products ahead of the spec. "We're ready and testing with network and OEM partners," said QLogic VP of marketing Frank Berry last week.

  • The IEEE is also working in support of FCOE. Another surprising point to emerge from last week's news is that work being done on FCOE in the T11 committee of INCITS won't suffice to make the spec work beyond a certain level of basic connectivity. That's why Cisco's Claudio DeSanti, one of the lead developers of FCOE in T11, is working with engineers from other vendors in the IEEE 802.1 committee to modify Ethernet for FCOE use."FCOE as a protocol requires the same lossless behavior that underlies Fibre Channel," De Santi says. We all know that Ethernet drops packets under stress, like any other IP network. But DeSanti and others are engaged in a series of specific projects to fix that. These include "data center bridging" work, comprising congestion notification (the IEEE 802.1Qau effort); enhanced transmission selection (the IEEE 802.1Qaz project); and priority-based flow control (the IEEE PFC group).

  • Users are interested in FCOE. As industry interest in FCOE has solidified, storage managers have been seriously considering their alternatives when it comes to data center interconnects. And results of our latest Byte and Switch poll show that a sizeable portion of respondents are more interested in FCOE than they were last year, even though more than half believe FCOE deployments will turn up hidden problems.

  • FCOE isn't meant to be routable. Early complaints that FCOE isn't routable are irrelevant, say its proponents. "A key point of FCOE is that it is not for long distances," DeSanti says. "It's for a straightforward local environment in a data center, the same way FC is used today."

    Experts say FCOE will debut at the network edge, where blade switches use converged network adapters (CNAs) to link to hosts via both Fibre Channel and Ethernet networks. Over time, others will adopt FCOE closer to the data center core.

  • Sun sees InfiniBand as an alternative to FCOE before the standard is done. During a luncheon with Sun's Microelectronics Group last week, John Fowler, EVP of the systems division at Sun, told fellow CMP reporter Rick Merritt that Sun would focus on InfiniBand as a data center interconnect in 2008. Sun still plans to roll out FCOE products in the wake of standardization and/or user demand.Bottom line? If you haven't been interested in FCOE up to now, chances are you may have to rethink your position. Given the momentum behind this spec, it's likely to play a significant role in data center connectivity in the long term. Near term, Byte and Switch will be closely tracking developments.

    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.

  • Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)

  • Emulex Corp. (NYSE: ELX)

  • IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM)

  • InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS)

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

  • Intel Corp. (Nasdaq: INTC)

  • Network Appliance Inc. (Nasdaq: NTAP)

  • QLogic Corp. (Nasdaq: QLGC)

  • Sun Microsystems Inc.

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