Is Ethernet Storage On The Horizon?

Yes and soon, according to a recent panel of IT professionals

There's been a lot of banter in the industry about storage-over-Ethernet over the past few months. It seems like every Ethernet switching vendor has added the words, "Fibre Channel and iSCSI," to their PowerPoint slides and now champion standards efforts like Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE), Data Center Ethernet (DCE), or Data Center Bridging (DCB). All of these standards are designed to make Ethernet behave like a channel rather than a network and thus create a unified uber transport for the data center. So the networking community is engage but what about users? Apparently so. At the recent ESG "Ahead of the Curve" event in Boston, I asked a roomful of networking professionals the following question: Do you believe your organization will make Ethernet a standard transport for storage networking? It should be noted that we further clarified the question by stating that we were asking about SAN and not NAS in this case. Here are the results: 42% Yes, but no specific timeline at this point 32% Yes, we are doing this today 5% Yes, over the next 12-24 months 21% No, we will continue to run separate networks for data and storage in the data center My thoughts: 1. Two years ago, I told my storage colleagues that the tipping point for FCoE momentum would be when 10GbE was selling for less than $500 per port and when Intel servers regularly shipped with 10GbE NICs. That's roughly where we are today. Since demand for 10GbE is increasing, 10GbE server NICs will become the rule and switch price per port will drop driving more FCoE demand. 2. Cisco claims that it has a 33% FCoE attach rate on its Nexus 5000 top-of-rack switches. Clearly Cisco is pushing FCoE with UCS and vBlocks. 3. Today's implementation of FCoE is limited to "one hop" from the server NIC to the TOR switch. This causes some in the industry to scoff at FCoE as nothing but an access network technology. This viewpoint is cleary rooted with vendors and technicians and not users. IT professionals are tickled pink that they can eliminate HBAs while standardizing on cables and access switches. As for the "one hop" limitation, the folks at the IEEE are working diligently to overcome this -- stay tuned. 4. FCoE will fundamentally change the storage industry. Today, storage vendors sell storage systems, HBAs, and switches and maintain tight control of the whole enchilada. If a storage widget isn't supported, deploying it could void or at least impact your maintenance agreement. In the near future, storage vendors are going to have to give up control of the infrastructure and ensure that their systems work flawlessly with everyone's standard Ethernet switching gear. HP could lead this transition since it builds servers, networking equipment, and storage systems. A market-driven, standards-based approach to FCoE could bolster HP's storage market presence. Yeah, I know that there is a multi-billion dollar Fibre Channel market that won't change overnight but I'll bet this transition happens far faster than most people anticipate. The response to my polling question indicates that it is already happening, and market dynamics will only accelerate this trend.

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