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Fibre Channel over Ethernet (Part 2 of 3)

Last month I did some research and evaluation of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).  In my Part 1 of 3 I shared some elements that can encourage the use of FCoE in the data center.

During my research I spent about an hour on the phone with Mike Krause, Fellow Engineer at HP.  Mike and I talked about few things related to FCoE, shared storage and network fabrics.  I asked Mike about creating a shared fabric using InfiniBand, because InfiniBand requires a single card type and InfiniBand switches that take frames to their respective networks.  Mike countered saying that InfiniBand is a great option, but it introduces a new, third architecture to the data center.  I realized immediately that it was orthogonal to existing data and storage networks.  Mike further commented that he liked InfiniBand as an option, but the original intent was to replace PCI as the primary peripheral interconnect within servers etc.  Thus, it made sense that InfiniBand wasn’t creating a shared fabric, just moving the cards to another location.  Mike finished our discussion about InfiniBand by saying “Ethernet is the logical consolidation of [the] fabric.”

We started getting into the details of FCoE from Mike and HP’s perspective.  HP has a gold mind with Mike on board as a Fellow Engineer.  Mike’s salient points about shared fabric and blade systems with respect to cable consolidation was fascinating.  He made it very clear that cable consolidation should not be a factor in choosing FCoE as the devices emerge through 2009.  Cable consolidation is best left to Blade Systems, a rack-n-stack consolidation effort.

Mike echo’s industry thoughts that the world is Ethernet already and everything is connected by Ethernet.  Therefore, Ethernet is a good answer to shared fabric and FCoE is the right answer to transition Fibre Channel to the Ethernet shared fabric.  Moreover, Mike made it clear that the data center is not run as a single sub-net, therefore it is not practical to assume entire data and storage administrative teams will consolidate in the next few years.  In fact, Mike, along with Claudio and Bill from Cisco, believe consolidating data and storage networks, as well as administrative functions, will be done incrementally.  Servers would still have four cards, just four 10gig Ethernet cards.  Two cards for storage network and two cards for data networks (need to have redundancy).  Mike conveyed that using one card for both storage and data networks will happen by necessity, such as during a disaster recovery or other dire circumstances as a contingency plan!

It was really great talking to Mike and I would encourage anyone interested in learning more about FCoE, InfiniBand and HP try to talk with Mike at any of HP’s events or Storage Networking World.  We’d be happy to pass on your comments as well!


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