FCoE: Fibre Channel's Last Stand?

With talk of Ethernet dominating storage networks, vendors with a strong stake in Fibre Channel last month announced their own convergence standard (see "New Fibre Channel over Ethernet standard proposed").

Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), which is backed by Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., EMC Corp., Emulex Corp., IBM, Intel Corp., Qlogic Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., among others, would directly map the Fibre Channel protocol over Ethernet. This would allow SAN traffic to run natively on standard LANs while allowing customers to keep using their existing Fibre Channel infrastructure.

See our main story on 10 Gigabit Ethernet: "When and why you should roll out 10Gbit Ethernet ".

That's much less expensive than replacing your Fibre Channel gear with an "end-to-end IP SAN," buying new management tools and retraining staffers, says Taufik Ma, vice president of marketing for intelligent network products at Emulex. However, he doesn't expect to see products supporting FCoE until 2009.

Brian Garrett, an analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group in Milford Mass., agrees that FCoE would mean less change for Fibre Channel customers than iSCSI. Furthermore, he says, "FCoE is designed for data traffic and doesn't drop packets [requiring their retransmission] like iSCSI. And FCoE supports up to eight lanes of hardware isolation for better quality of service."

While technical benefits matter, he says, the winner could ultimately be determined by "culture and politics." Adopting iSCSI would force Fibre Channel administrators to work with their networking peers, whereas FCoE, he says, "enables the storage team to move toward Ethernet on their own terms."

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