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| Storage pros will need to learn more about the network than ever before.
data centers are being transformed. Companies are consolidating geographically dispersed data centers into centralized ones to reduce footprints and costs, and to improve performance. One of the most visible technologies enabling this change is virtualization, particularly server virtualization. But despite all of the attention virtualization has received, probably less than 10% of available servers have been virtualized, leaving a lot of room for future growth. Another significant part of this transformation is the expanding role of the network. To support all of the features and functionality of server virtualization, a networked storage environment is required. Research from Enterprise Strategy Group indicates that 86% of server virtualization shops leverage a networked storage environment. While vendors will argue the merits of various types of networks, the most common one is still Fibre Channel (FC), chosen for performance reasons. However, it's not used exclusively and many firms will deploy multiple storage networks based on performance needs, internal skills and budgets.
FCoE's role in the network
Why is this important to the storage team? As data centers and the networks that power them continue to change, the line between data networks and storage networks will blur. Server virtualization and data mobility are forcing IT to rethink the traditional, siloed approach to data center technologies. For example, before Cisco announced its Nexus 1000 virtual switches at VMworld 2008, server admins controlled VMware virtual switches embedded in the ESX hypervisor through a VMware interface. Now, if users choose to deploy the new Cisco Nexus 1000 in VMware environments, network admins can regain control of the switching environment and leverage Cisco's NX-OS to manage the virtual, as well as the physical, Ethernet switches.
what the transformation means to storage teams
Bottlenecks. Once server virtualization technologies have been deployed correctly, bringing on a new application can require only a few minutes. But how long will it take to provision the storage to support it? If the answer is measured in days or weeks, the process needs to be reviewed and new storage technologies may be required.
Who controls the newly deployed network? Typically, storage teams dictate the type of network supporting the storage environment. Looking ahead, it's easy to imagine that changing. If FCoE takes off, will the deployment of Ethernet switches be controlled by storage or networking companies? Will the storage team or the networking group have the responsibility and budget? Will companies need hybrid IT groups with members from both of these teams?
Do FCoE products need certification from storage vendors? Traditionally, FC switch sales are influenced by the specific vendor but controlled by storage companies. Ethernet switches, sold into the network groups, haven't needed any approvals for NAS and iSCSI implementations. With FCoE, however, the game has changed. For now, all FCoE products are undergoing testing and so-called certification by major vendors. But will this trend continue? If you've been purchasing Ethernet switches for years without requiring storage vendor approval, why start now? And questions remain as to whether or not storage vendors will even have the time or desire to test all of the solutions. Will storage vendors retain final approval or will network vendors convince customers that it's an unnecessary step? It will be important to keep an eye on this potential shift in power.
FC won't disappear overnight. Remember when open systems were going to eliminate mainframes? There are still plenty of mainframes around and you could argue that the concept of virtualization is simply open systems recognizing a great benefit of logical partitions in the mainframe world and adopting it. FC will be around for a while, but like ESCON and FICON, it may not be the fastest growing or most exciting segment to work in five to 10 years down the road.
Vendors, especially those with a convergence message, now offer classes and certification programs to become better educated on these new technologies and virtualization products. Many are offered online and don't require travel. Take advantage of any company-sponsored training to expand your knowledge base and position yourself for future growth.
In addition, go to the certifying bodies themselves, like the IEEE and T11, to learn more about the status of CEE and FCoE. Other helpful sites include the FCoE home page.
Look for integration points
Cisco is driving convergence with products and software, like the Nexus product line and NX-OS operating system, which combines storage networking SAN-OS and IOS into a single interface. The company's recently announced Nexus 1000 virtual switch resides in the hypervisor and replaces the VMware virtual switch. It's also controlled by NX-OS. You can expect Brocade, with its acquisition of Foundry Networks, to follow suit with a combined OS and single console to manage the storage and data network.
The big picture