FCoE tutorial: Your Fibre Channel over Ethernet questions answered

FCoE tutorial: Answers to your tech questions

Storage expert Marc Staimer tackles the challenges related to FCoE adoption and implementation, including how to connect FCoE switches and support for FCoE protocols.

Data storage professionals continue to hear about the importance of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and incentives for using the protocol. Leveraging FCoE in a storage environment reduces the number of switches, cards and cables a data storage pro must place in data center racks, and can enable an organization to operate lossless Ethernet -- no dropped packets. Another chief benefit of moving to FCoE is that Fibre Channel follows an Ethernet roadmap; this is important because instead of having to travel from 4 GB to 8 GB to 16 GB and then 32 GB, the Ethernet plan calls for moving from 10 GB to 40 GB to 100 GB.

But despite so much initial hype around the technology -- which promises a single, converged network infrastructure -- initial adoption rates were slower than expected. In the last two years, however, marketplace changes such as FCoE cards from vendors (including storage array vendors) are helping to make FCoE more common in the data center. Beyond that, the maturing technology means users can expect to see DCBx switches begin to supplant top-of-rack switches and gateways.

In this FCoE tutorial, SearchStorage.com expert Marc Staimer answers key questions surrounding the protocols, switches and standards involved in FCoE technology.

Table of contents:

Adopting Fibre Channel over Ethernet in your organization
Interoperability concerns have slowed the growth of Fibre Channel over Ethernet up to this point, but as the technology refresh cycle for servers picks up, FCoE will likely become a more popular choice among data storage administrators.

What to expect when using an FCoE switch in your data center
Some IT shops have had problems connecting FCoE switches in the data center, but the data center bridging capability exchange protocol (DCBx) has emerged as a way to integrate FCoE with existing storage arrays.

Hardware requirements for attaching FCoE to storage
Once a converged network adapter is available on each server or client, there are a few choices for merging Fibre Channel over Ethernet and storage arrays, including connection via a top-of-rack switch that converts to Fibre Channel (FC) and a FC fabric, or using a DCB core switch that connects via Layer-2 switching to the storage array.

Examining third-party management support for the Fibre Channel over Ethernet protocol
Although FCoE isn't supported by every server and storage array, end-to-end integrated systems provide the best opportunity to fully support the protocols Fibre Channel over Ethernet requires, but most third-party systems will offer some kind of limited support.