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Factors to consider when implementing Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE)

Learn the differences between implementing Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and iSCSI, the costs of upgrading to FCoE and more.

Enterprise data storage environments housing a large installed Fibre Channel (FC) base, or those that want to simplify and create a converged network for top-of-rack or end-of-row connectivity, should definitely evaluate Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE).

Momentum for FCoE has continued to grow, and 2009 has been a busy year for the technology's supporters. The INCITS T11 standards body has approved a draft (making it a de facto standard) and released it for public review, and numerous vendors have announced products supporting FCoE. There's also a variety of second-generation products, including offerings from Brocade Communications Systems Inc., EMC Corp., Emulex Corp., IBM, Hewlett-Packard (HP) Co. and NetApp Inc., available that support native end-to-end FCoE environments.

Based upon the variety of options now surrounding the technology, there are some important factors to consider when determining if FCoE is right for your environment.

Should you approach FCoE the same way you did iSCSI?

From a standards ratification perspective, you should approach FCoE in the same way you did iSCSI. If your organization is an early adopter, now is the time to make an investment in FCoE. However, FCoE differs significantly from iSCSI in that it shouldn't create organizational issues surrounding management. There was a lot of confusion with iSCSI in regards to whether the storage or network team should manage the devices. Because Fibre Channel over Ethernet leverages existing FC storage management tools and is resold through the same storage channels, it should be easier to fit into enterprise data storage domains.

What are the costs of an FCoE upgrade?

Costs will vary depending on your environment and whether you deploy FCoE to implement a converged network to the top of a rack or row, or if you deploy a native end-to-end FCoE environment. Either way, you must ensure that the deployment is based on second-generation single chip technology.

If you're deploying a top-of-rack solution, you'll need to buy converged network adapters (CNAs) and a top-of-rack FCoE switch. CNAs are currently priced at approximately $1,200 per port, while FCoE switches are in the $900 per-port price range. FCoE pricing is expected to remain at a premium for the time being, but should begin to drop as volume increases.

Native end-to-end FCoE will require the appropriate storage arrays. Those without an approved array will need to factor in the cost of one or determine when their vendor of choice will support FCoE. The upfront costs may initially exceed the combined costs of separate FC and Ethernet (1 GbE), but users need to factor in how a reduction in devices and cabling could positively impact management and troubleshooting.

Preparing for an FCoE implementation

    • Continue to follow the standards. Both Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) and FCoE are on track and should be officially ratified in early 2010; however, it's basically a de facto standard with which you should already feel comfortable following.

  • Determine the applications suitable for FCoE testing. Equipment is available to begin rigorous testing. Think about how 10 Gb performance could enhance your applications. While most will start with test and development applications, many organizations will want to leverage FCoE to support a virtualized server environment.

  • Discuss the FCoE roadmap with storage vendors. If you have immediate production needs, FC is still the right choice, but may not be for long-term projects or strategic needs. You should continue a dialogue with vendors on product roadmaps and strategic direction, particularly around investment protection. If they're deploying FC today, will that equipment support Fibre Channel over Ethernet in the future?

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