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Companies propose Ethernet/SAN love-in

New standards promise hot network-on-network action

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A gaggle of top networking and storage vendors have submitted a new standards proposal that will allow Fibre Channel protocol over Ethernet networks.

The proposal was submitted to the T11 Committee of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) today. Among those backing the standards are Brocade, EMC, Cisco, IBM, Intel, Emulex, QLogic, Nuova and Sun.

After ANSI gives the green light, the proposed standards are expected to head to the International Organization for Standardization for worldwide adoption.

Aw yeah.

Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) will allow SAN traffic to be natively transported over Ethernet networks, bypassing the TCP/IP stack.

"FCoE will remove a stopgap in communication between Fibre and Ethernet," senior technologist at EMC Wayne Adams said. "It's moving ones and zeros with low latency — without a routed environment."

While Fibre Channel is the standard in high-end data storage, the cheaper Ethernet option is becoming increasingly enticing with better reliability and 10Gbit/s technology on the horizon. The fresh standard could help unite the two worlds.

"This enables people who already have a large Fibre Chanel SAN infrastructure to keep everything they have in place," market analyst for Enterprise Strategy Group Tony Asaro said. "Users can merge this with 10G Ethernet without giving anything up."

Companies have already been working on product compliance in parallel to the submission, but it will still be about three to four years - fingers crossed - before the technology will make an impact on the market, according to industry reps.

Asaro also speculates that 10G Ethernet technology has to go down in price before people look at it in a practical sense for the highest-end tasks. 10G Ethernet currently costs about $3000 to $5000 per port.

Reliability is an issue as well.

"FCoE depends upon a loss-less Ethernet," SVP of Emulex, Ameesh Divatia said. "This can be done in the data center today using the 802.3 Annex 31B Pause protocol."

Further reliability issues making companies wary of using Ethernet in conjunction with high-end storage are being confronted through a proposed IEEE congestion management standard, Divatia said.

The companies involved claim combining multiple types of data traffic will see reduced management complexity, operating costs and power utilization. ®

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