How to get from Fibre Channel to Fibre Channel over Ethernet

For IT organizations already invested in Fibre Channel (FC), the most common approach is to go Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) between the servers and top-of-rack switches, or the access layer.

In these early days of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), getting to the emerging storage networking technology generally won't mean an end-to-end forklift upgrade of your entire enterprise data storage system -- from the host servers to the core switches to the storage arrays.

For IT organizations invested in Fibre Channel (FC), the most common approach is to go FCoE between the servers and top-of-rack switches, or the access layer. Those switches -- Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s 8000 or Cisco Systems Inc.'s Nexus 5000 Series -- split the Ethernet-based LAN traffic and the FC-based storage area network (SAN) traffic. Users can then tap their existing core switches and FC SANs.

More on FCoE

Network architecture considerations for FCoE

What you need to deploy FCoE: A storage Checklist

Enterprise data storage requirements for FCoE

"In the near term, it really is going to be about building around what you currently have. If you've got Fibre Channel, you're probably going to be having FCoE right next to it," said Greg Schulz, founder and analyst at The StorageIO Group in Stillwater, Minn. "Most organizations aren't going to be able to afford a total rip and replace, both from a budget standpoint and also from a risk-averse standpoint."

Many IT organizations will be content to hold off on Fibre Channel over Ethernet until the standards work is complete and more enterprise-class FCoE networking and storage products appear. The T11 (Fibre Channel) working group in June forwarded the main FCoE standard to the International Committee for IT Standards (INCITS) for publication as an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard.

But, the enhanced Ethernet standards -- referred to as Data Center Bridging (DCB) -- that aim to ensure that FCoE traffic can be transported without packet loss remain a work in progress. The major ones are nearing finalization with the IEEE, although some of the standards may not be completed until next year.

"In the meantime, the components are vendors' early interpretations of what they think those standards are going to be," said Robert Passmore, a research vice president at Gartner Inc. He advised potential users to wait until the standards are nailed down.

"Our advice is very simple to users. First of all, think top of rack a year or two before you think end to end," Passmore said. "Secondly, for top of rack, if you're an early adopter, then this is a pretty good time to start looking around. If you're a normal customer, and you don't burn resources helping the industry debug its products, then the time for you is probably the end of 2010/early 2011 for top of rack."

 

This was first published in November 2009
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