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Cisco, NetApp and VMware combine for 'end-to-end' FCoE storage

VMware certifies NetApp FCoE arrays and Cisco Nexus 5000 switches to work with vSphere in virtual server environments; is the FCoE ecosystem reaching maturity?

Cisco Systems Inc. and NetApp Inc. -- vendors who have been at the forefront of pushing Fibre Channel over Ethernet storage (FCoE storage) -- have certified FCoE products to run with VMware vSphere.

On Wednesday, the vendors said VMware validated NetApp's FAS storage systems that support FCoE and the Cisco Nexus 5000 switches in virtual environments running VMware vSphere. The three vendors hope this first end-to-end FCoE storage network certified to run with virtual servers will spur FCoE adoption, which remains in the early stages while customers wait for the product ecosphere and standards to mature.

"From a technology standpoint, this is a good example or proof point that FCoE continues to evolve as well as mature, and opens the door for more tire kickers to give it a try in their environments," said Greg Schulz, founder and senior analyst at StorageIO Group.

Wikibon analyst Stuart Miniman made a similar point on his blog Wednesday, while pointing out that NetApp won't be able to make its claim as the only end-to-end FCoE storage vendor for long.

"Bottom line, the ecosystem for Ethernet-based storage is continuing to grow," Miniman wrote. "The pieces are starting to fall into place for realistic end-to-end FCoE solutions to be deployed by late 2010 or 2011."

More on FCoE storage
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Network architecture considerations for FCoE
The early tire kickers include Databasement director Rob Christ, who uses NetApp systems for his firm's storage hosting business in the Netherlands. Databasement also serves as a consultant to help customers with on-site storage implementations, and Christ said he has built FCoE networks for a large school and a shipping manufacturer.

He said the school used NetApp NAS with another vendor's SAN before switching to FCoE. "We consolidated it over a unified FCoE platform on NetApp," he said.

Christ said these kinds of certifications will help drive FCoE implementations. "It's just like with Fibre Channel, you have a compatibility matrix," he said. "You need the right firmware and have to know what's supported and what's not supported. You have to know your boundaries. While it's still maturing, the FCoE boundaries are getting bigger now and it's getting ready for the enterprise. When we started, it was more restricted."

He said the need for compatibility testing is nothing new for Fibre Channel customers. "Fibre Channel incompatibility is a normal thing," Christ said. "On the IP side you don't have it much, but with FCoE you have interoperability hits, so you need to know what works with what."

More FCoE products coming

Cisco has supported FCoE on its Nexus 5000 switch since April 2008, and NetApp began offering native FCoE support through an FCoE target on its storage arrays later that year.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Emulex Corp. and QLogic Corp. are shipping converged network adapters (CNAs) that support FCoE, but adoption on storage systems has been limited because of lack of widespread FCoE support for SAN switches and standards that enable FCoE have not been ratified.

Other vendors are coming around with FCoE gear, though. On its quarterly earnings call last week, QLogic executives said Oracle Corp. is rebranding the QLogic CNA that supports FCoE for its Sun storage platform. Oracle is selling that device as the Sun Storage 10GbE FCoE PCIe Converged Network Adapter.

EMC Corp. is expected to add native FCoE support for its midrange Clariion and enterprise Symmetrix storage arrays this year, and will probably be certified with VMware when it does (EMC is the majority owner of VMware). Cisco has said it plans to add FCoE to its core Nexus 7000 switch in the coming months.

"We're starting to see [customer] interest," said Jim Sangster, NetApp's senior director of virtualization solutions and alliances. "It's a very natural fit for somebody already invested heavily in Fibre Channel, where the infrastructure is Fibre Channel and the whole operations team is well trained and comfortable with Fibre Channel. "

As for the importance of VMware in a consolidated network, "what's most prevalent in the space right now is everybody would like to deploy on VMware's vSphere this year," Sangster added.

Ben Matheson, VMware's senior director of global partner marketing, said consolidated Fibre Channel and Ethernet networks are a good fit for virtualized environments.

"That convergence [of Fibre Channel and Ethernet] is what's going to help drive 100% virtual environments across all kinds of workloads," he said. "One of our goals is to support all protocols -- Fibre Channel, iSCSI, FCoE."

Soni Jiandani, Cisco's vice president of marketing for server access virtualization, said Cisco has more than 2,000 Nexus 5000 customers with more than 1 million 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports, and about 25% of those ports are licensed for FCoE. Most of those are on the server side, she added. "We're the only three companies that will drive FCoE from compute into the data center fabric and into the storage," Jiandani said of Cisco, NetApp and VMware.

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