FCoE's Role in Converged Networks and the Criticality of Continuity

by Doug.Ingraham on ‎04-29-2010 10:09 AM (271 Views)

In my previous blogs I made the case for why the venerable Spanning Tree Protocol was ill-suited for deploying virtualized data center network designs and for eliminating hierarchical, multi-tier networks in favor of large Layer 2 networks. The common thread in both instances is the idea that server virtualization, while delivering certain cost efficiencies, adds complexity to IT operations. And the last thing network and data center administrators need is to be further burdened with network complexities as they are trying desperately to track virtual machines and applications that are popping up all over their data centers.

Today I examine what needs to happen if you want to run storage traffic over that flat, converged Layer 2 network. After all, like physical servers, virtual servers will generate a lot of data. Having reliable access to storage resources will be critical to the integrity of applications running on those Virtual Machines (VMs). In fact, with the projected growth rates of VM adoption and associated sprawl, there may be even more compelling reasons to for IT administrators to move to a shared storage (storage networking) model than ever before.

There is a lot of industry debate as to what storage networking technology/protocol (Fibre Channel, iSCSI, NAS, even DAS) is best suited to support VMs. While vendors may vehemently argue in favor of the protocol of their choice, attendees of the most recent Gartner Data Center Conference (December 2009) voted overwhelmingly in favor of Fibre Channel as the technology they considered “most important in a virtualized server infrastructure.”

In second place was Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), an emerging technology that’s generating a lot of buzz today, but has yet to be deployed in any meaningful scale in production environments. But that will undoubtedly change as companies move to more converged fabrics (of LANs and SANs) and as FCoE passes the muster as a technology capable of meeting mission-critical needs. It is important for storage networking and data center administrators to know that, despite the fact that the “E” in FCoE stands for Ethernet, the technology itself possesses more of the robust performance and reliability characteristics of Fibre Channel. Furthermore, all of the key Fibre Channel services (such as data replication, backup, and encryption) will continue to exist and thrive whether they’re running on “traditional” Fibre Channel or FCoE.

This was not an accident. Brocade played a leading role in developing FCoE in the standards bodies, and we fought hard to ensure that the technology retained the management and service-level paradigms that have served Fibre Channel well for decades in the most demanding IT environments in the world—at the heart of tier-1 data centers.

There is a reason companies have invested more than an estimated $50 billion in Fibre Channel technology and have deployed 30 million Fibre Channel switch ports worldwide. It would be utterly irresponsible for any vendor to advocate any “vision” that does not clearly map out a clear, practical, evolutionary path from Fibre Channel to future technologies—whether it’s FCoE or even the next version of Fibre Channel (16 Gbps).

It has to be comforting for companies to know that there is at least one vendor who has a technology strategy that emphasizes retaining continuity and consistency in helping them migrate from the current to “next-gen.” Of course, it also means that companies can continue to invest and grow their current Fibre Channel infrastructures to meet current and near-future storage requirements without fear of the technology becoming obsolete in future data centers.

Brocade is absolutely committed to making this migration as smooth and seamless as possible. Our products such as the Brocade FCoE 10-24 Blade for the Brocade DCX and Brocade DCX-4S Backbones are prime examples of Brocade engineering this evolutionary chart into its existing, industry-leading portfolio. We plan to reveal additional pieces of this puzzle in the upcoming months.

In my next installment, I will tackle the topic of virtualization and, more specifically, how virtualization relates to automatic migration of port profiles and VMotion over distance.