Ethernet's The Future
Ethernet's road map means it's a natural for virtualized, converged networks. Future enhancements will boost performance by an order of magnitude, leaving all competing protocols in the dust. And standardizing on Ethernet brings an economy of scale that will reduce cost as well.
While iSCSI was designed to leverage TCP/IP for reliability, moving Fibre Channel to Ethernet requires significant upgrades. This was the motivation behind the creation of Data Center Bridging extensions to add guaranteed and predictable delivery of Ethernet packets. Networking vendors quickly added support for priority flow control (802.1Qbb), bandwidth management (802.1Qaz), and a Data Center Bridging Exchange protocol to communicate capabilities. Further enhancements will bring widespread use of congestion management technology as well as new network topologies for enhanced performance and flexibility.
For now, though, combining data and storage networking over Ethernet requires special converged network adapters, and major vendors have responded to this need quickly. The latest models from Brocade, Emulex, and QLogic offer solid DCB support for server hypervisors from Citrix, Microsoft, and VMware. Meanwhile, Intel is set to release a software stack for its 10-Gbps Ethernet adapters that promises broad DCB and Fibre Channel over Ethernet support in the future.
Flexible I/O requires more than convergence, however. Networks must be able to rapidly adapt when systems move, and this requires virtualization of hardware interface identifiers.
Fibre Channel flexibility is enhanced with N_Port ID virtualization, which "names" a virtual machine rather than a physical interface. A similar technology inside servers, Virtual Machine Device Queues, correctly allocates network traffic to virtual machines. Much development in network virtualization remains to be done, but exciting technologies like OpenFlow promise fully programmable, flexible Ethernet networks.
No Going Back
The growth of server virtualization is driving network storage deployments, no question. But it's also an opportunity to advance the state of the enterprise storage art. Never before has an application requiring such extreme levels of flexibility, integration, and performance seen such widespread use.
As enterprise storage professionals embrace virtualization and convergence, they must also become actively involved in developing advanced architectures. Get a seat at the table when virtual data center plans are developed, because new technologies such as virtual desktop infrastructures and consolidated or converged networks affect the storage infrastructure.
Storage is both a requirement for and a key enabler of highly virtualized server architectures, and much attention and development effort are being focused on storage devices tailored for these environments. These next-generation arrays must present storage in a manner appropriate to the demands of the hypervisor, address convergence trends, and offer new features like thin provisioning and replication, so storage pros must also stay on top of what vendors are doing. The world of enterprise storage will never be the same--and that's a good thing.
Our full report on storage for highly converged networks is free with registration.
This report includes 17 pages of action-oriented analysis and 8 charts from our IT surveys. What you'll find:
- Insight on virtualization's impact on storage networks
- What new storage architectures are capable of
- Guidance on convergence
- A look at changes in sotrage presentation
Stephen Foskett is a consultant and writer. Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.