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Addressing corporate needs for metropolitan and local Fibre Channel (FC) connectivity over one common Ethernet network can mean lower energy usage and costs, and that's why many enterprise managers are looking at FC over IP (FCIP) and FC over Ethernet (FCoE) for their storage-to-network connectivity. These complementary Ethernet protocols let companies start down the road of consolidating on one network platform as opposed to maintaining separate FC and Ethernet networks.

But FCIP and FCoE require users to upgrade or replace some equipment, as well as address internal management issues.

The standardized FCIP protocol works by transmitting FC frames over TCP/IP, which can route FCIP FC frames locally or remotely over existing Ethernet switches and routers. The emerging FCoE standard also uses existing Ethernet switches and routers, but runs without TCP/IP at the Ethernet layer so it's not routable. That means it requires administrators to create point-to-point configurations, or zones, in Ethernet switches using the MAC addresses found on servers and storage network cards. This is similar to how admins create zones in FC SAN switches using the world wide name addresses presented by FC host bus adapters (HBAs).

The combination of FCIP's ability to route data remotely while FCoE keeps data local on the same Ethernet network makes these protocols particularly desirable for

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companies looking to consolidate to and manage one common network infrastructure. Still, it may be difficult to manage and the range of options can be confusing for customers.

Before most companies can entertain the idea of running both of these protocols over the same Ethernet connection, they'll want to upgrade from 1Gb Ethernet (GbE) to 10GbE to prevent the possibility of any network bottlenecks. Claudio DeSanti, technical leader in advanced architecture and research at Cisco Systems, recommends firms have a level of assurance that FC will work as well over Ethernet as it does in their current FC SANs. To do that, they should deploy a 10GbE network infrastructure.

This was first published in November 2007

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