Brocade Launches FCoE Switches, Adapters

The vendor community is laying the groundwork for migration to a unified Ethernet-based data center fabric, but it may not happen for quite a while

April 8, 2009

3 Min Read
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Networking vendor Brocade Communications Systems on Tuesday introduced a switch and converged network adapters that support Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and Convergence Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) at Storage Networking World in Orlando. It is the latest in a series of moves by a variety of networking, storage, and data center vendors to provide a migration path to a 10-Gigabit Ethernet unified network infrastructure that many believe will become the foundation for next-generation data centers.

But that won't happen soon, Brocade acknowledges. "We believe we are extremely early and that adoption of this technology might not be as quick as we had hoped," says Marty Lans, senior director of product marketing at Brocade. "There are many forces working against it right now."

Lans notes that the financial services industry is usually among the early adopters of new data center technology, but that the state of the economy and the financial weakness of many Wall Street firms have taken them out of the mix. At the same time, enterprises are scaling back their IT budgets. And internal politics also could slow adoption. ""You have the storage guy, the network guy and the server guy. This touches a lot of people. Who manages it?" he asks.

Most customers will stick to what they know, at least for a while, he predicts. That means no big move away from Fibre Channel networks for storage and IP networks for servers and InfiniBand for high-performance computing, especially since faster versions of each are becoming available. "Data centers move extremely slow when it comes to new technology. We have to educate the market on what this technology can do," he says.

Byte and Switch blogger Frank Berry suggests that it may take a year or more before even an early adopter market exists for FCoE. Still, when customers are ready to migrate, Brocade wants to be ready to compete with rivals like Cisco and perhaps HP and find other data center vendors to partner with, perhaps IBM or others. Adapter competitors like Emulex and QLogic have announced their own converged network adapters and Cisco, of course, has its own switches.Brocade introduced the 8000 top-of-the-rack switch, with 24 10-Gigabit Ethernet ports for CEE and eight 8-Gbit/s Fibre Channel ports. It also introduced two FCoE converged network adapters, which can provide around 500,000 IOPS per port. The company is using the same chip in the switch and CNAs to deliver quality of service features. The CNAs can provide 64 I/O data queues to let IT administrators easily allocate host resources for virtualization. Brocade also is offering its Data Center Fabric Manager, a unified management platform that can handle Fibre Channel and FCoE, and a host of support and consulting services.

Over the long run, a unified data center fabric can help with server and infrastructure consolidation, reduce networking equipment and costs, cut power consumption and provide IT managers with more flexibility. But over the long run, many of these capabilities now being offered in switches and adapters will migrate to the server motherboard, posing challenges for vendors offering them as stand-alone products. "That may be when the real adoption takes place," Lans says.

The savings on data center infrastructure equipment and power usage that a unified approach offers is a clear benefit, and FCoE allows enterprise IT departments to protect their investment in FC storage networks. Whether the future is some form of CEE or FCoE is something that will be decided by customers as they spend their IT dollars. The technology is here now, says Lans, even if the customers are not yet ready to buy.

As B&S blogger Berry recently wrote in a blog post, the industry has been talking about FCoE for almost two years. Still, he wrote, the products available today are "really suited only for proof of concept and not for deployment in production environments. I expect just the early adopter phase of the 10-Gbit/s FCoE lifecycle to be counted in terms of years."

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