Virtualisation to benefit from FCoE

By Dave Raffo
Friday, 24 July, 2009

IBM today increased its support of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) by agreeing to sell FCoE switches and adapters from Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and Cisco Systems Inc.

IBM is re-branding the Brocade 8000 FCoE switch as the IBM Converged Switch B32 and the 1010 and 1020 Converged Network Adapters (CNAs) Brocade launched in April as the 10Gb CNA for IBM System x. The rebranded products are available today.

Beginning next month, IBM will also resell Cisco Nexus 5000 switches that support Fibre Channel, 10 Gigabit Ethernet (10 GbE) and FCoE.

These are the first FCoE switches sold by IBM, which already offers QLogic Corp. 8100 CNAs with BladeCenter and System x servers. Doug Armbrust, IBM's director of data center networking, said IBM will add products from other FCoE partners, including CNA vendor Emulex Corp.

IBM will also offer services through its Global Technology Services unit to help integrate network products.

FCoE allows Fibre Channel traffic to run directly over Ethernet, bringing storage and servers into a common network. Still in its infancy in terms of adoption, FCoE will show up in server connectivity devices first and then move to storage. IBM doesn't yet support FCoE in its storage arrays.

Armbrust said he sees early FCoE implementations going mainly in new and expanded data centers rather than replacing legacy FC and Ethernet gear.

"It's more prevalent in new buildouts," he said. "You can leverage FCoE within a rack in an existing data center without the type of upheaval you might see in full FCoE implementations, but green field areas are more open to FCoE adoption in our experience."

As for storage adoption, he said getting FC customers to switch over will take some time.

"Storage tends to have more of a legacy base," Armbrust said. "We believe some will stay with 8 Gig Fibre Channel. We'll see FCoE adopted more in systems and servers for now."

Market research firms Dell'Oro Group and TheInfoPro suggest Fibre Channel over Ethernet will catch on soon but won't significantly replace FC in storage for years to come.

Dell'Oro Group estimates approximately 10,000 FCoE ports shipped in 2008, and forecasts that number to rise to about 1 million in 2011. Still, Seamus Crehan, Dell'Oro Group vice president of network adapters research, said there'll probably be more than 10 million Fibre Channel ports in 2011.

"We see FCoE adapters on servers initially and access switches that attach to those servers, and then the back end of that – the storage side – happens later," Crehan said.

"In five years, we'll still see the ratio of FCoE to Fibre Channel still favoring Fibre Channel considerably. Initial products will be streaming out, but significant volume is still quite a ways out," he said.

In interviews with Fortune 1000 storage decision makers, TheInfoPro found the number of organizations with Fibre Channel over Ethernet in their long-term plans nearly tripled – from 9% to 25% – between late 2007 and early 2009. However, a recent report by TheInfoPro said widespread FCoE storage adoption will trail 8 Gbps FC and 10 GbE adoption.

TheInfoPro also ties FCoE storage adoption to server virtualisation, identifying it as the application users say will benefit the most from FCoE.

Dell'Oro Group's Crehan said FCoE adoption has been limited by a lack of mature products and standards, a reluctance of enterprises to replace technology that works and the financial downturn.

But with the availability of single-ASIC FCoE products and the T11 Technical Committee ratifying a final FCoE standard last month, two limitations have been alleviated. Crehan said IBM's backing of FCoE will also help.

"IBM's embracing of convergence and FCoE is important for the market," he said. "IBM is a very large player in server, storage and networking, plus the management and services that integrate all of those layers."

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