Bullish Cisco predicts Fibre Channel over Ethernet storage arrays in 2009

Despite Brocade's claims that Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) is still years away from reality, Cisco says it has customers close to adoption on the server side with FCoE storage arrays coming next year.

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Cisco is sticking to its optimistic timeline for customer adoption of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) despite the claims of its Fibre Channel switch rival, Brocade, that FCoE is still years away from widespread adoption.

During Brocade's Technology Day on June 26, company executives said they expect FCoE to start showing up in servers in 2010 and they don't expect mainstream use of FCoE in storage before 2011.

But in an interview with SearchStorage.com, Jackie Ross, vice president of business development for Cicso, painted a different picture. Ross said she expects Cisco customers to begin using FCoE in production on servers in August, with volume shipments coming in November. She predicts that SAN arrays with native FCoE support will appear by late 2009.

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"We are very bullish on the adoption rate of FCoE," Ross said. "I think the large SAN array vendors are saying, 'Let's see how fast this gains traction,' and if they see traction picking up. . .we can see native FCoE [on storage] at the end of 2009."

FCoE equipment will allow data centers to converge Fibre Channel and Ethernet into one network with common cabling and connection devices. But how much and how fast FCoE moves into storage networks depends on three factors.

  1. The FCoE standard and the Converged Enhanced Ethernet standard that FCoE relies on must be ratified.
  2. The vendor ecosystem of products must be available to support FCoE.
  3. When will customers want to implement FCoE?
As for standards, Ross expects FCoE to be standardized by the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS) later this year, with Converged Enhanced Ethernet becoming a standard in the first half of 2009. Brocade execs agree with the timing of the standards but think it will take longer for veodrs to roll out products and for customers to adopt the technology.

Cisco points out that FCoE products already exist, including its Nexus 5020 switch and an Intel FCoE 10 Gbps PCIe adapter. Emulex and QLogic expect to have Converged Network Adapters (CNA) – FCoE equivalents of HBAs – by the end of summer.

Storage vendors not disclosing FCoE roadmaps

Storage system vendors haven't disclosed roadmaps for FCoE systems, although EMC and NetApp are considered the most committed to FCoE. An EMC spokesman said the vendor is qualifying Cisco Nexus 5000 FCoE technology on its storage gear and expects customer deployments this year, but would not give a timeframe for native FCoE support on EMC products.

Joel Reich, vice president of NetApp's SANiSAN business unit, expects ratification of the FCoE standard by year-end, and said that NetApp will have a native FCoE target soon after. He said FCoE is a "logical progression" of NetApp's unified storage approach of offering Fibre Channel, iSCSI and NAS in its enterprise systems.

Several Brocade execs spoke of confusion in the FCoE market during their Tech Day. "We have some customers who say they want FCoE tomorrow and some who say they don't ever want it," said Tom Buiocchi, marketing vice president for Brocade. He said that Brocade reminds customers that there are as yet no FCoE products to implement.

Ken Male, CEO of market research firm TheInfoPro, presented information during Brocade's Tech Day that shows slow adoption of FCoE. According to TheInfoPro interviews with Fortune 1000 companies, only 16% say FCoE is in their plan for pilot or implementation in 2008. FCoE ranked twenty-second and last on the amrkt research firm's storage "Heat Index," which measures customer interest in implementing technologies.

But Cisco's Ross said that more than 250 customers are evaluating the Cisco Nexus 5020 switch, and many of them are using it with storage.

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