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Intel gets inside of FCoE

Fibre Channel vendors aren’t the only ones pushing the new Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) standard designed to help Fibre Channel devices take advantage of 10-gig Ethernet.  Intel is also getting into the game, with an FCoE Linux initiator.

Intel this week released an open source FCoE initiator that it will maintain on http://www.open-fcoe.org/. The FCoE initiator will work the way iSCSI initiators wok on current IP SANs. By going open source instead of developing the initiators for its own products, Intel hopes to accelerate the availability of FCoE by getting feedback from the Linux community. Intel storage planner and technologist Jordan Plawner said the goal is for Linux servers to ship FCoE-ready, just as they ship with iSCSI inititators today.  

“We believe 10-gig Ethernet provides an opportunity to converge SAN and LAN traffic,” Plawner said. “We’ll continue to support iSCSI, but FCoE makes it easier to connect Ethernet into Fibre Channel SANs.”

That’s the party line for Fibre Channel vendors, and one that iSCSI SAN proponents dispute. Like iSCSI vendors, Intel is looking at it from the Ethernet side – but Plawner said FCoE will be better suited than iSCSI to take advantage of the coming Enhanced Ethernet spec. Enhanced Ethernet is a new version in the works that boosts Ethernet’s performance to make it more suitable to run storage.

“It’s much easier to adopt FCoE for Enhanced Ethernet,” Plawner said. “iSCSI is Ethernet end to end, so you would need a completely new subnet because you need Enhanced Ethernet on every node. With FCoE, just the first server and first top-of-the-rack-switch needs Enhanced Ethernet.”

Intel is looking to put FCoE Linux initiators on adapter cards that will work with FCoE switches in 2008. Plawner says he expects FCoE-enabled switches from Brocade and Cisco in the second half of next year, and he thinks companies will deploy FCoE in their networks by the end of 2008.

Plawner’s time frame is even more optimistic than that of some Fibre Channel storage vendors backing FCoE. Brocade execs says they don’t expect adoption until 2009, and they don’t think widescale adoption will arrive before 2010. But Brocade pledges to support FCoE in the DCX backbone director it will launch next year. Cisco’s FCoE switches are expected from Nuova Systems, which is 80 percent owned by Cisco. Nuova has yet to give product details, but industry sources say it will likely have FCoE switches or cards that plug into Cisco MDS switches early next year.

Here is a more detailed explanation of how Fibre Channel and Ethernet can converge.

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