Virtualization to drive adoption of Fibre Channel over Ethernet

As standards for Fibre Channel over Ethernet are put in place, companies with virtualized storage will be able to reap the benefits of the storage protocol

The Fibre Channel over Ethernet storage protocol may enhance virtualization projects by ensuring greater mobility of virtual machines, and is in the plans of more than a quarter of Fortune 1000 companies, according to new research from TheInfoPro IT consulting firm.

Few companies have begun using FCoE products, which is not a surprise given that FCoE standards have not yet been finalized, says Rob Stevenson, managing director of storage research for TheInfoPro. But storage executives at large enterprises are looking forward to benefits FCoE could bestow on virtualized servers, he says.

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The simplified cabling schemes promised by FCoE will reduce the amount of physical work required to move a VM from one server to another, Stevenson says. "If there are less connection points to a virtual machine, you have more mobility," he says. Even in a virtual environment, "there are still physical interfaces beneath the hardware that have to be provisioned properly." TheInfoPro surveyed storage executives from 303 Fortune 1000 companies between November and April for a new report titled "Fibre Channel Over Ethernet: Storage Pro Perspective." A draft FCoE standard was recently approved by a technical committee within the International Committee for Information Technology Standards and submitted for an initial public review.

When asked which applications will benefit the most from FCoE, respondents put virtualized servers at the top, followed by databases, blade servers, backup environments, Microsoft applications, disaster recovery, and data warehouses.

Storage executives generally believe FCoE "will be the dominant storage transport for the future," but adoption today is scarce, the report states. Three percent of respondents are already using FCoE technology, and another 26 percent are either piloting, evaluating or planning to deploy in the near- or long-term. National labs, telco firms and some technology companies are testing out FCoE, but it's not at the point of mainstream adoption, or for use in mission-critical applications, Stevenson notes.

Moving to FCoE offers the advantage of a loss-less protocol, but the unfinished standard does not yet have the expected multi-pathing and load balancing features, according to Stevenson.

FCoE today is therefore like a car that drives, but lacks air bags and rear view mirrors.

"When we talk to enterprises, they need the full arsenal of capabilities," he says.

Even though the standard is unfinished, companies such as Cisco, Brocade, EMC, and NetApp are releasing products to lay the groundwork for an industry-wide move to FCoE.

Brocade, for example, recently unveiled a switch and network adapters that join Fibre Channel over Ethernet and Convergence Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) into one platform, but the company says it does not expect mass adoption until 2011.

Generally, users see NetApp and Cisco as offering the best FCoE technology, Stevenson says. But they  are waiting for 10 Gigabit Ethernet to become fully deployed throughout the data center before adopting FCoE, TheInfoPro states. This will take two or three years.

"For the foreseeable future, Fibre Channel will remain the incumbent technology of choice, but FCoE's advantage in terms of cable simplification, lower infrastructure cost and management are positioning it as the next-generation storage fabric," the research firm writes.

This story, "Virtualization to drive adoption of Fibre Channel over Ethernet" was originally published by Network World.

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