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Storage networking alternatives

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FC provides excellent performance, availability and scalability in a lossless network that’s isolated from general LAN traffic. Fibre Channel infrastructures are common in large data centers where there are full-time data storage administrators. It’s not uncommon to see FC fabrics with hundreds or thousands of active Fibre Channel SAN ports.

Some 16 Gbps FC SAN fabric products will become available in late 2011. Use cases for 16 Gbps FC include large virtualized servers, server consolidations and multi-server applications. The increasing acceptance of SSDs for enterprise workloads will also help consume some of the increased bandwidth that 16 Gbps FC brings. In addition, storage vendors are already working on a 32 Gbps FC SAN interface that’s expected to appear in products in three or four years.

Fibre Channel over Ethernet

Fibre Channel over Ethernet is a new interface that encapsulates the FC protocol within Ethernet packets using a relatively new technology called Data Center Bridging (DCB). DCB is a set of enhancements to traditional Ethernet and is currently implemented with some 10 GbE infrastructures. FCoE allows FC traffic to run over a lossless 10 Gbps link while maintaining compatibility with existing Fibre Channel storage systems.

FCoE introduces a new type of switch and a new type of adapter. Ethernet switches capable of supporting FCoE require DCB and the new host adapters are known as converged network adapters (CNAs)

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because they can run Ethernet and FC (via FCoE) at the same time. Some of the CNAs have full hardware offload for FCoE, iSCSI or both, in the same way that Fibre Channel host bus adapters (HBAs) have hardware offload for Fibre Channel. DCB switches are capable of separately managing different traffic types over the same connection, and can allocate percentages of the total bandwidth to those differing traffic types. By combining the previously separate Ethernet and Fibre Channel switches, adapters and cables, the long-term costs of storage and data networking can be reduced.

As enterprises plan new data centers, or new server and storage infrastructure, FCoE and DCB technology should be carefully examined. They offer the potential for increased performance, a reduction in the number of adapters needed and a commensurate reduction in electric power consumption while working with existing Fibre Channel infrastructure.

This was first published in October 2011

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