SAN JOSE, Calif. Backers of Fibre Channel over Ethernet threw something of a coming out party for the technology at the Storage Networking World event in Orlando today (April 8.). Cisco Systems, Emulex, Mellanox and QLogic announced their first crop of products at the show.
FCoE is one of several efforts aiming to consolidate server, storage and networking jobs on to fewer wires in tomorrow's data centers. In a race to market, some of the initial products have not been optimized for lowest price or highest performance, some key standards are still in the works and it will take time for a full suite of supporting systems to arrive.
In addition, vendors are still engaged in a lively debate over what networks are most suited for the consolidation. A few including Mellanox and Sun Microsystems are
driving Infiniband at 20 and 40 Gbits/s as the logical choice, while most others back 10 Gbit/s Ethernet although the technology requires more work on its reliability and performance.
At the event, Emulex, Mellanox and QLogic all announced their first server adapter cards supporting FCoE. Cisco announced it would acquire the outstanding shares of Nuova Systems, a Cisco spin-off that announced a 10 Gbit Ethernet switch supporting FCoE as its first product.
The resulting Cisco Nexus 5000 series switch aims to handle storage, network and clustering traffics in data centers. In storage, it handles FCoE as well as iSCSI, another protocol for running storage traffic on Ethernet.
The Nexus 5000 is already in trials with end users. The system starts at $36,000 for a 40-port, 10 Gbit Ethernet switch, and is scheduled to be available May.
On the server side, Emulex introduced its LightPulse LP21000 family of 10 Gbit Ethernet adapters supporting FCoE. The cards can use the company's existing Fibre Channel software drivers.
"Our goal is to preserve and leverage the substantial investments our customers have made in Fibre Channel and SAN management tools, while delivering the next generation products necessary to help transform their data centers," said Ameesh Divatia, general manager of Emulex's Intelligent Network Products group, speaking in a prepared statement.
Emulex demonstrated its products working with the new Cisco switch at the show. For its part, QLogic demonstrated its new 8000 Series 10 Gbit Ethernet adapters linked to storage systems from NetApp that support native FCoE. The duo also demoed their latest 8 Gbit/s Fibre Channel products.
"We are hearing from customers that multi-core processors, blade servers and virtual machine sprawl are stressing their data center infrastructure," said Frank Berry, vice president of marketing, QLogic in a prepared statement. "Our goal is to help our customers transform their data centers into an efficient computing environment that is consolidated, virtualized and simpler to manage," he added.
Thad Omura, vice president of product marketing at Mellanox, characterized his company's ConnectX server cards as a hybrid using a mix of hardware and software support for FCoE. Ethernet controllers on the board have hardware blocks supporting framing and transport offload while software handles mapping and translation of Fibre Channel addresses to Ethernet.
"From what we understand everyone else is implementing a multichip solution," using Fibre Channel and Ethernet controllers linked with glue logic on a board, Omura said.
The Emulex and QLogic cards "don't have a good road map for integration to a single-chip LAN-on-motherboard anytime soon," claimed Steven Pope, chief technology officer for network controllers at SolarFlare Communications.
The startup which also builds 10GBase-T transceivers is currently focused on supporting storage using the iSCSI protocol on Ethernet. It will support FCoE in a version of its controller due next year, hoping the IEEE standards for advanced Ethernet are done by that time, Pope said.
Some vendors may implement FCoE support in software using open source code recently made available online. However, the software approach is not likely to deliver best performance and will require significant interoperability testing.
"That's a new software stack that needs to mature, a big barrier for acceptance in the data center," said Pope.
Omura of Mellanox said he could provide no FCoE performance measures for his card because there are no gateway systems available yet to test it with other than a software gateway on the open source Web site. "The software gateway is pretty limited in performance, but we think we will have a huge advantage over an all-software approach," Omura said.
"Real volume deployments of FCoE won't happen for a year or more because it will take time for real gateways to come to market. This [Mellanox FCoE product] is an enablement and a show of our technology leadership," he added.
Mellanox implements a version of the per-priority-pause feature which is key to enabling a more robust version of Ethernet for supporting Fibre Channel. However at least two other features are still being defined in an IEEE effort to develop a lossless version of Ethernet. A separate working group is defining FCoE in the T11 standards group that handles Fibre Channel.
"They are moving forward in IEEE, but my impression is it could take multiple years to close on this effort. This is the long pole in the tent," said Omura.