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Brocade unfurls FCoE roadmap

CNA and FCoE switch next year

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Brocade is aiming to deliver an FCoE switch and FCoE server adapters, and sign a tier-one HBA OEM by the end of the year.

FCoE means Fibre Channel over Ethernet and involves sending Fibre Channel (FC) protocol messages across ethernet links. Traditionally FC messages pass through a fabric with switches and director nodes controlling the routing across the network from potentially thousands of servers to storage area network (SAN) storage arrays. Brocade's DCX (data center switch - a very large director) is built to accept incoming FCoE messages and route them across to the SAN arrays.

Existing iSCSI SANs use ethernet as a transport layer to carry TCP/IP messages to IP SAN storage arrays with no intervening fabric and fabric infrastructure of FC switches and directors. Literally, any old ethernet switch will do. It is confidently expected that storage arrays will emerge with native FCoE interfaces, at which point a server with an FCoE adapter or CNA could talk via ethernet and an ethernet switch to an FCoE storage array with no need for a FC fabric structure at all.

Ian Whiting, Brocade's vice president and general manager of its Data Center Infrastructure Division, said that Brocade will introduce FCoE server adapters and an FCoE switch: "A CNA is on our roadmap ... We expect to synchronize its launch with an FCoE switch ... available from Brocade in the first half of 2009."

Currently a server accessing a Fibre Channel SAN needs a Host Bus Adapter (HBA) to construct the FC messages and send them across the FC fabric. In the FCoE world an Ethernet Network Interface Card (NIC) needs a FC protocol function converged onto it, hence the Converged Network Adapter (CNA) name. HBA vendors Emulex and QLogic have produced and demonstrated CNAs operating in an ethernet network using a Cisco Nexus switch.

Brocade has recently entered the HBA market with products that embody some of the intelligence in a Brocade switch and produce what Whiting called 'orders of magnitude' performance improvements over existing HBAs.

Brocade, according to Whiting, expects to sign a tier-one storage systems vendor for its HBAs before the end of the year. A financial analyst suggests that this could be either HP or IBM.

It is possible that a Brocade CNA would share intelligence with a Brocade FCoE switch to deliver a better, faster storage access service than what we might term commodity CNAs talking via commodity ethernet switches could deliver.

Regarding ideas that FCoE could see a convergence of Fibre Channel and ethernet networks, Whiting commented: "It's not about network convergence, it's more about interface convergence. We'll have disparate Fibre Channel and ethernet networks."

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