FCoE

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Google+ 0 StumbleUpon 0 Buffer 0 LinkedIn 0 0 Flares ×

Fibre Channel over Ethernet has been back on my radar recently, especially as it was touted again at Storage Networking World in Orlando last week. Unfortunately I wasn’t there and didn’t see for myself, although I was in Orlando the week before on vacation. I can imagine if I’d extended or moved the holiday to include SNW that I’d be none too popular with Mrs E and my sons.

Any hoo, I looked back over my blog and I first briefly mentioned FCoE back in April 2007, a whole 12 months ago. Now, we know 12 months is a long time in the storage world (in which time iSCSI will have claimed another 3000% market share, EMC will have purchased another 50,000 storage companies of various and dubious value, HDS will have released nothing and IBM will have developed 2 or 3 new technologies which won’t see the light of day until I’m dead and buried). I expect then that FCoE should have moved on somewhat and it appears it almost has. Products are being touted, for example, Emulex with the LP21000 CNA card (not an HBA card, please note the new acronym) and Cisco with their Nexus 5000 switch (plus others).

At this stage I don’t believe the FCoE protocol has been fully ratified as a standard. I have been spending some time wading reading through the FC-BB-5 project documentation on the T11 website, covering FCoE to understand exactly how the protocol works in more detail and how it can be compared to native fibre channel, iSCSI, iFCP and FCIP. In the words of Cilla, here’s a quick reminder on storage protocols in case you’d forgotten.

Fibre channel and the Fibre Channel Protocol (FCP) provide a lossless, packet based data transmission protocol for moving data between a host (initiator) and a storage device (target). FCP implements SCSI over fibre channel. To date, fibre channel has been implemented on dedicated hardware from vendors including Cisco and McDATA/Brocade. iSCSI uses TCP/IP to exchange data between a host and storage device using the SCSI protocol. It therefore includes the overhead of TCP/IP but provides for lossy and long distance connectivity. iFCP and FCIP are two implementations which encapsulate FCP in TCP/IP packets. FCIP extends an existing fibre channel SAN, whereas iFCP allows data to be routed between fibre channel SANs.

FCoE will sit alongside fibre channel and allow the transmission of FCP packets at the Ethernet layer, removing the need for TCP/IP (and effectively allowing TCP/IP and FCP packets to exist on the same Ethernet network).

So hurrah, we have another storage protocol available in our armoury and the storage vendors are telling us that this is good because we can converge our IP and storage networks into one and save a few hundred dollars per server on HBA cards and SAN ports. But is it all good? Years back, I looked at using IP over fibre channel as a way to remove network interface cards from servers. The aim was to remove the NICs used for backup and put that traffic across the SAN using IPFC. I never did it. Not because I couldn’t; I’m sure technically it would have worked, but rather because the idea scared the willies out of “the management” for two reasons (a) we had no idea of the impact of two traffic types going over the same physical network and (b) the Network Team would have “sent the boys round” to sort us out.

Will this be any different with FCoE? Will anyone really be 100% happy mixing traffic? Will the politics allow the Networks teams to own SAN traffic entirely? Let’s face it, in large environments I currently advocate the separation of host, tape and replication traffic to separate fibre channel fabrics. I can’t imagine reversing my position and going back to single consolidated networks.

So then, is FCoE going to be better in smaller environments where the consolidation is more practical? Well, if that’s the case, then surely that makes FCoE just another niche player to FC, just like iSCSI.

It’s early days yet. There are a million-and-one questions which need to be answered, not least of which will be how FCoE will interoperate with standard FC, how drivers will interact with the existing storage protocol stack on a server and how performance/throughput will be managed. Some of these issues have been answered, however this blog entry is already far too long and rambling to include a discussion on these points this time and I will save them for another time.

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
  • DCed

    Hi,

    First of all, one physical boxes dealing with FC and LAN in the same place does not mean that you use the same physical NIC. One for the LAN and One for the FCOE

    Secondly,Let’s take the cisco example. When you define mutiple Vsan, you consider having one or mutliple fabrics ? In a logical view, you’ve got different fabrics. Where is then the difference between two vsan and one vsan and one vlan ?

    Nowadays with virtualisation everywhere, who cares about physical boxes ? The challenge for cisco and all the others is to implement a proper QOS mechanism to ensure that SAN will always get the highest priority.

    I hope also to see FCOE interface made by other companies like intel or Broadcom or whatever, so that we can remove these costly HBA’s.

  • Chris M Evans

    dced

    I think you hit on two points here; firstly why have separate physical connections; Well, lots, from providing resilience, performance and to ease issues with maintenance, rolling disasters and so on. As an example, many organisations physical segregate development/test environments from production; they separate backup and production LANs because each as it’s own specific design issues and a single network can’t always address both.

    Your second point is however more pertinent – so that we can remove these costly HBAs….

    Why have HBA costs not come down to the same level as NICs? The technology is mature, however there are only a few players in the HBA club and so they operate a near monopoly. Is that likely to change with FCoE? I doubt it. Why should Qlogic and Emulex start selling CNAs at a quarter of the price they could get for HBAs?

    One other point, while I remember; standards. Fibre channel has much higher and more rigourous standards for certifying interoperability from HBA to storage. This contributes to the current cost of HBA technology. SAN Architects are not going to want that to be diluted in any way and that will keep CNA costs high.

    I also believe in the principle of not putting all my eggs in one basket.

  • Deepak

    You mention QLogic and Emulex as current CNA vendors but you missed a third one, Intel. Intel is also in the FCoE CNA business and certainly has an incentive to drive down the cost of FCoE CNAs following the same curve as their previous Ethernet offerings.

  • Chris M Evans

    Deepak thanks, I may have not been clear in that I was referring to current HBA manufacturers; Qlogic and Emulex own the current market. However you are right, if Intel decide they want to undercut the incumbents then we will have a very interesting situation!

  • Greg Bowden

    Interesting Article, and interesting times. I think we need to think more broader in IT to find examples where convergence has worked. For instance, we have spent the last few years merging Data & Voice traffic on the same network. Believe me, in the early days there was lots of politics, lots of you cant do that, issues between the Data & Voice teams etc. So, as an industry we have conquered the issues around converging networks and what that means for seperate teams. If the technology has business value (reducing cost, enabling agility, being greener DC) then I feel confident that we can solve these other issues. Of course the question then is is FCoE the right technology, will it solve our business challegnes without creating signficant others. This concept won’t only be sold to Storage Managers also to the CIO, so I expect to see some mandates coming from top down. Of course this is all very new, with little shipping product, so time and the market will tell. For me, it makes fasinating watching!

    Cheers, Greg.

  • ms

    Please excuse the intrusion and question after reading your blog…

    at one time I recall Cisco (and others) rejecting Pause as not necessary in Cisco switches with wire-speed switching and non-blocking, shared-memory.

    and that a correctly designed network would not require it.

    what has changed with the 10gig switch technology that now requires it for FCoE?

    can you help me with this please?

    I was hoping for a easy answer if there was one

    thanks

    matt sanders

  • ms

    Please excuse the intrusion and question after reading your blog…

    at one time I recall Cisco (and others) rejecting Pause as not necessary in Cisco switches with wire-speed switching and non-blocking, shared-memory.

    and that a correctly designed network would not require it.

    what has changed with the 10gig switch technology that now requires it for FCoE?

    can you help me with this please?

    I was hoping for a easy answer if there was one

    thanks

    matt sanders

0 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 0 Google+ 0 StumbleUpon 0 Buffer 0 LinkedIn 0 0 Flares ×