A turning point for storage networking: Hot Spots


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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
Just as data centers are transforming, the

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most popular storage networking technology is also evolving. While many companies were content to follow the FC roadmap--upgrading from 1Gb to 2Gb, then to 4Gb and now 8Gb--new technologies like Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) have given users something to think about before blindly progressing to 16Gb FC. Why is that? And why should the storage team pay attention?

  • There's the potential for much higher throughput/performance.
    • FCoE leverages 10Gb Ethernet (10GbE). To be more specific, it leverages an enhanced version of the Ethernet standard referred to as Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE). The changes are mostly related to eliminating dropped packets and relieving congestion.
    • The roadmap for FCoE mirrors Ethernet. This means the next leap is four times the throughput (up to 40Gb), which will quickly surpass the FC roadmap.

  • Additional savings can be realized through convergence.
    • Every IT organization is under constant pressure to reduce costs. FCoE provides the opportunity to reduce the number of cards and cables required at least at the rack level. This could also have an impact on power and cooling requirements.
    • List prices for 10GbE ports are already less than $500 per port and will continue to decline as sales volumes increase.

  • Major vendors have made significant investments in this space.
    • They understand the benefits of convergence and are building hardware and software portfolios to provide solutions to enable this transition. Some of the more notable acquisitions include Cisco Systems Inc. bringing in Nuova Systems Inc. and Brocade's acquisition of Foundry Networks Inc. Other firms like Emulex Corp. and QLogic Corp. have developed their own technology to deliver converged network adaptors to replace host bus adapters and NIC cards.

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.

This was first published in November 2008

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