Brocade outlines FCoE plans

By Kevin Komiega

—Brocade executives took the stage in New York this week at the company's annual meeting with investors and analysts to detail the company's latest products and to temper some of the hype and expectations swirling around the availability of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE) networking technologies.

FCoE is an emerging storage protocol—currently being put through its paces by the standards bodies—that will allow Fibre Channel traffic to travel over Ethernet networks. CEE, also under review, is a necessary piece of the puzzle as it turns unreliable Ethernet networks into a "lossless" transport mechanism for FCoE and making it reliable enough to handle critical data.

However, there is some debate among vendors and analysts as to when the technologies will be available to end users.

A cadre of companies, led by Cisco, Emulex, and QLogic, demonstrated FCoE-capable switches, adapters, and cabling products at Storage Networking World in April—an event dubbed by many as FCoE's coming-out party.

Cisco debuted the Nexus 5000 series of data-center-class switches, which are essentially 10GbE switches with optional software licenses that allow users to turn on FCoE functionality once the standards have been ratified. QLogic threw its hat in the FCoE ring with a line of converged network adapters (CNAs) that support FCoE connectivity, and Intel announced support for FCoE on its family of 10GbE server adapters.

Emulex also participated in the SNW demo session by displaying a line of FCoE-based CNAs. The company claims its products are "already in customers' hands" while Brocade is still outlining its FCoE road map. Mike Smith, executive vice president of worldwide marketing at Emulex, says, "Emulex's 12-plus years of Fibre Channel experience lends to FCoE greatly, as the key to FCoE is true interoperability with existing networks and the ability to extend users' existing Fibre Channel investments."

Brocade, however, is offering what it considers to be a more pragmatic timeline for FCoE and CEE-based products, stating that the technologies are likely to be adopted by customers incrementally, to extend their existing networks, with greatest impact initially on the server side of the data center.

Ian Whiting, vice president and general manager of Brocade's Data Center Infrastructure Division, says FCoE and CEE technologies will not be ready for prime time this year.

"Standards-based FCoE products will come into the market at the end of this year and the early part of 2009," predicts Whiting. "Next year will be when end users begin trying it out, and 2010 will be the year we see adoption on the server side."

TheInfoPro (TIP), an independent IT research firm, supports Brocade's views that while customers are aware of these developing technologies, their plans are to carefully assess and evaluate the impact of the new standards and technologies prior to deploying them in production data-center environments.

TheInfoPro recently polled storage and networking users from 152 Fortune 1000 companies and found that 84% of users have no immediate plans to deploy FCoE, with only 9% stating that FCoE deployment is in their long-term plans.

Whiting says Brocade will begin delivering rack switches and HBAs once FCoE and CEE have been vetted by the standards bodies later this year. However, he does believe that users need to adjust their thinking about data-center designs now in order to be ready once the technologies are available.

"If you believe some of the press out there, FCoE is going to happen next Tuesday and it's going to be cheap and easy to use, but in reality it is going to require a different switch and adapter infrastructure," says Whiting.

In the meantime, Brocade is pushing hard to convert IT professionals into true believers when it comes to its Data Center Fabric strategy with new products such as the DCX Backbone platform and the company's recently released 8Gbps Fibre Channel SAN switches and HBAs.

Brocade's FCoE products are expected to include FCoE and CEE module options for the DCX Backbone platform, a 10Gbps FCoE switch in a "top of rack" model or as an edge switch to an existing storage network and 10Gbps FCoE server adapters.

This article was originally published on June 27, 2008