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The three committees or projects - Qau, Qbb and Qaz - have to individually agree amongst their members that their work is complete, and a 75 per cent majority in a workgroup ballot is needed at a minimum. Once that hurdle is passed then there is a general IEEE or sponsor ballot, equivalent to a public review. If that is in favour then the project becomes a standard. Thus for DCE to become a standard, the Qau, Qbb and Qaz workgroups have to pass their workgroup ballots and then the IEEE public ballot has to be passed.

This final set of ballots could be completed in early 2010, say in Q1 or the Q1/Q2 transition area. Commercial product, fully DCE-compliant products, could appear in Q2/Q3 2010. So-called intercept DCE products could appear in Q1 2010 as suppliers build the Qau, Qbb and Qaz workgroup functionality into their products before the public ballot, intercepting the developing standard, and potentially commit to upgrading firmware or whatever else is necessary to meet any final changes on route to formal standardisation.

Once DCE is a standard then Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) has the platform it needs to become a reality and Fibre Channel SAN access can begin a migration away from physical Fibre Channel towards software Fibre Channel sending messages over the DCE cloud. It ought to be feasible to begin pilot development FCoE work in Q1 2010, if not before, depending upon the status of vendors' DCE intercept products.

You could set up trial DCE cloud with CNAs (Converged Network Adapters) layering FCoE messages onto DCE and sending them via DCE-class switches to storage arrays, and checking that the Fibre Channel link between servers and storage arrays works and remains intact as you throw a blizzard of congestion-inducing packets in sudden storms of traffic at the DCE-class switches.

Either they will maintain their virtual FC SAN traffic scheme intact or they will break and you will, no doubt, be able to tune parameters to manage the break downs. Or you won't, in which case it's back to the drawing board.

Early 2010 is going to be DCE proof of concept time. If it works then the beginning of the end of the physical Fibre Channel era will have arrived. That will be momentous. ®

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