Is FCoE a Diabolical Plot?; Musings on SNW’s Day 2 FCoE Announcements

I initially intended to share in this blog posting what I learned from my briefings on Day 3 of Storage Networking World (SNW). However I’ve had some more time to digest the news surrounding the Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) announcements at SNW on Tuesday and the more I think about it, the more this whole FCoE strikes me as a huge setup to lock users into Fibre Channel (FC) that is being carefully orchestrated by the FC industry. Though this was hinted at about a year ago in an article that appeared on Computerworld’s website, the roadmap and agenda of how vendors like Brocade, Emulex and Qlogic and, to a lesser extent, Cisco and Intel, intend to do so or the next 10 years is more clear.

My understanding is that 8 Gb/s FC represents the end of the upgrade cycle for the current generation of FC technology. Whether enterprises are running 1, 2, 4 or 8 Gb/s FC, the underlying optics are essentially the same allowing for interoperability between new HBAs and existing FC cables and directors. Most importantly, the FC infrastructure did not need to dramatically change from generation to generation as upgrades occurred or new products were released.

However those days are over. Again, as I understand it, the next FC upgrade cycle in data centers beyond 8 Gb/s, whether it is to 10 or 16 Gb/s FC, is going to require a rip-and-replace of the current data center FC infrastructure. With that looming, FC vendors knew they needed to cooperate and collaborate to keep FC viable regardless of which FC technology path users choose. Otherwise when users start to take a long, hard look at the pros and cons of FC versus InfiniBand during the next data center refresh cycle, 40 Gb/s InfiniBand stands an above average chance of replacing FC.

So to avert this, my guess is that the FC vendors concocted a plan: Use FCoE to connect all enterprise servers, get a few analysts on board to endorse the idea and then convince end-users to take their eyes off the longer term ramifications of using FCoE. By getting enterprise users to bite on FCoE and spend the next few years connecting their remaining 85% of their servers to  existing FC SANs, users are locked into FC for the next 10 years until the next disruptive technology comes along.

Now with the remaining 85% of the servers in the data center running FCoE, the most logical upgrade path for users for the original 15% of servers and storage is FC. Then regardless if the next FC upgrade is 10 Gb/s or 16 Gb/s FC, when the inevitable rip-and-replace comes in 2 – 4 years, FC lives on and InfiniBand remains a niche market.

Tuesday’s announcement had less to do with what’s best for the end users and everything to do with preserving Brocade’s, Emulex’s and Qlogic’s core FC business. To do so, they needed Intel and Cisco to come on board, support it and promote it. If this FCoE initiative fails and users actually start to compare the benefits of InfiniBand to FC and realize that they can get 10x the benefits at the same cost as FC.  FC and InfiniBand could swap places.  Then FC could become the new niche market and InfiniBand may begin to dominate in the data center.

Look for my notes and thoughts on my Day 3 SNW briefings and meetings on Monday.

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