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The other day a customer told me that he was all excitedabout FCoE (Fibre Channel Over Ethernet), and he asked if I thought he shouldbe doing anything about it right now. My response: “FCoE is best for people whowould rather wait.” The standard isn’t even done yet, so it clearly isn’t forpeople in a hurry.

 

NetApp is a big fan ofany kind of storage over Ethernet. We were the first big NAS vendor, wewere an early iSCSI proponent, and NetApp is the market share leader of the “storageover Ethernet” market as a whole. We even participated in an FCoE proof ofconcept demo at the Storage Networking Worldconference last fall.

 

That said, my first reaction to FCoE was skepticism. Giventhat many people are already using iSCSI and NAS for mission criticalapplications—SAP, Oracle, as well as Exchange and SQL Server—I wondered why weneeded yet another protocol for storage over Ethernet. If you are reallyinterested in storage over Ethernet, why wait? Why not start saving money now? Ieven wondered whether FCoE was an evil plot by Fibre Channel vendors who werehoping to sow confusion and thereby slow down adoption of Ethernet storage.

 

Since then, I’ve been educated about the benefits of FCoE, andI’ve gotten over my conspiracy theory. The big advantage of FCoE is that, froma storage management perspective, it looks almost exactly like traditionalFibre Channel SAN. For many customers, the management differences between NAS,iSCSI and SAN aren’t a problem. The number one feedback I’ve gotten from customerswho have just installed iSCSI is: “It just worked.” On the other hand, changecan be painful and expensive for customers with large SANs, especially if they haveinvested heavily in documenting their environment and training their employees.For them, it’s a big win if FCoE can make the transition to Ethernet easier.

 

Some people also argue that FCoE will have a performanceadvantage. I see that as less of an issue because Ethernet can already handlethe vast majority of applications today. Oracle has one of the largestdata centers in the world, and they run almost everything on NFS overEthernet. They have even optimized the Oracle database  specifically to work well with NFS. Nevertheless, Fibre Channelhas a latency advantage for a small handful of very performance-sensitive applications,and FCoE will allow even this handful to run over Ethernet.

 

So what is my advice? That depends on your situation. If youhave an existing Fibre Channel infrastructure that meets your needs, the bestoption may be to do nothing. If you are considering a major Fibre Channel upgradein 2010, or maybe even 2009, then you really ought to investigate FCoE to seewhether it will bein time to meet your needs. On the other hand, if you want to start usingEthernet storage right away, then you should look closely at iSCSI and NAS. Thebest strategy may be to deploy iSCSI and NAS for new projects, and then use FCoEto convert your existing Fibre Channel infrastructure to Ethernet over time.

 

Maybe the most interesting thing about FCoE is that everyoneseems to be taking it very seriously. Despite my initial skepticism, it appearsthat Fibre Channel switch vendors really do intend to convert their existingcustomer base to Ethernet. Now that Brocade has purchased Foundry, all of themajor Fibre Channel switch vendors also have an Ethernet solution.

 

The end-game has become clear. The future of Fibre Channelis Ethernet.

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