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FCoE: Coming to a data center near you: Hot Spots

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Issues to consider
But there are some FCoE issues that go beyond technology and certification. Most of them are related to culture and domain segmentation. While we do see some progressive IT shops working to integrate technology silos, convergence is still a challenge in many places. Here are some critical questions you'll want answered:

  • Will the storage team or the networking team own the infrastructure? If co-managed, who has the deciding vote?


  • Which department will pay for it? How will chargeback be calculated and future growth determined?


  • Will the teams be integrated? Typically, the networking team is responsible for IP switches, while the storage team is responsible for Fibre Channel.


  • Who will own day-to-day operational issues? If a decision needs to be made regarding whether more bandwidth is given to LAN or SAN traffic, who makes the call? Will companies have to create a single, integrated connectivity group?

Aside from potential cultural issues that must be faced, another question is whether FCoE is compelling enough to merit a forklift upgrade. At this time, I don't believe we'll see FCoE conversion projects; rather, FCoE will probably be implemented as part of a bigger IT project, like server virtualization or a storage array technology refresh. Because some new hardware (read: capital

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expense) will be required, justifying the investment may be difficult, especially considering the macro environment. However, if the math becomes compelling enough, say below $500 per port, adoption may accelerate.

So why should you be thinking about FCoE now? Products are becoming available--specifically, the Cisco Nexus 5000 and Intel Adapters--and some vendors have made claims that FCoE will be in production environments this summer. Users currently testing FCoE environments using alpha/beta equipment seem quite satisfied with it. With some products available now and more due this fall, I say companies should consider creating a test and development platform for FCoE to become comfortable with the technology. Companies should definitely be planning to include FCoE in their 2009 budget if it isn't already in this year's.


The future of FCoE
FCoE appears to have all the technology bases covered. It enables companies to retain an existing FC infrastructure, keeps existing FC management tools in place, provides the same level of performance (with DCE) and lowers costs. The biggest variable in all this is the economics of FCoE solutions. Given the present economy and the pressure IT is under to reduce costs, compelling FCoE pricing may accelerate adoption faster than any marketing pitch or certification.

What will be the role of Fibre Channel going forward? Saying that FCoE will be the end of Fibre Channel makes for good headlines, but the reality is that FC is here to stay, at least for a while. The Fibre Channel Industry Association continues to drive toward 16Gig FC. Fibre Channel will co-exist with FCoE for a number of reasons. FCoE still needs to be tested and proven, and FC will continue to deliver services until then. Given that data centers are very slow to change--with plenty of people taking the "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" position--adoption could take a while. Lastly, there will always be protocol zealots resisting any new technology. It should be noted, however, that FCoE was designed to co-exist with FC and these technologies will work with existing management tools.

The green impact of FCoE is a compelling factor. The combination of lower power and cooling requirements (not from the protocol, but from the reduction in equipment) with reduced cabling will certainly be attractive as greater emphasis is placed on green initiatives.

You could also consider FCoE the beginning of the end for the cultural barriers that exist between technology domains in large-scale data centers. At the very least, it provides the storage team with an opportunity to get to know the networking team so they can work together to provide higher levels of service to the business and reduce costs. Ultimately, it could provide an opportunity to embrace the sort of change that delivers significant benefit to the business.

This was first published in July 2008

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