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NetApp fully embraces FCoE

Brocade and QLogic also on board

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NetApp is the first storage vendor to offer end-to-end Fibre Channel over Ethernet by partnering with Brocade and QLogic.

Not letting any depression about being denied Data Domain get in its way, NetApp is plunging whole-heartedly into Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoe), certifying and offering Brocade and QLogic Converged Network Adapters (CNAs), OEM'ing Brocade FCoE switches and blades, and using QLogic CNA silicon in its FAS3000 and 6000 arrays.

FCoE refers to the transmission of Fibre Channel protocol messages to and from block-access storage devices over Ethernet cabling instead of Fibre Channel wires, thus consolidating storage and general LAN traffic onto an Ethernet platform. Ethernet network interface cards (NICs) and Fibre Channel Host Bus Adapters (HBAs) converge onto a single CNA card, saving server I/O slots and simplifying cabling schemes.

The wholesale deployment of FCoE depends upon a development of Ethernet, Converged Enhanced Ethernet (CEE), also known as Data Centre Ethernet (DCE), that is low-latency, lossless, and multi-hop. Current FCoE Ethernet links are restricted to single network hops, after which the FCoE traffic has to transfer to real Fibre Channel.

Bob Laliberte, a senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group, said: "NetApp now has the world's first true end-to-end FCoE SAN (offering)."

NetApp is certifying the use of both Brocade and QLogic 10GbitE CNAs - Emulex is not involved in this.

NetApp is also using QLogic's CNA ASIC (application-specific integrated circuit) to provide native FCoE connectivity for its FAS 3000, FAS 6000 and V-Series storage arrays. This means that, in theory, an FCoE-interface server can talk FCoE to an FCoE-front-ended NetApp array with no Fibre Channel cabling present at all.

On the Brocade front, NetApp is certifying the use of Brocade's single and dual-port 1010 and 1020 CNAs, and will OEM Brocade's 8000 top-of-rack 24 X 10GigE port FCoE switch. It will also sell a single-slot 10-24 FCoE blade that Brocade is announcing today for its DCX backbone switch and DCX-4S switch, the first time a SAN fabric director has had FCoE blade functionality made available to it. All onward communications to Fibre Channel, or FCoE, storage arrays from the switch though, have to be by physical Fibre Channel as FCoE is not yet multi-hop-capable.

The 12-24 has 24 10GbitE ports and the DCX can accommodate two of these blades for now. The number will rise to a maximum of eight. Plugging in the blade constitutes a non-disruptive upgrade of the DCX. Ethernet messages coming into the DCX through the 10-24 are passed on out through Ethernet if they are not FCoE massages, and out through Fibre Channel ports if they are.

Ahmed Zamer, Brocade's product marketing manager for new technologies, explained that multi-hop functionality depends upon an aspect of CEE called TRILL, Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Lines (!), saying it is Layer 2 multi-pathing and it works, although it is not yet a full standard. TRILL is being developed by IETF (the Internet Engineering Task Force) and has a somewhat slow development timescale, subject to delays caused by IETF members requesting clarification of some point or other.

Zamer thinks it could be ready early in the second half of 2010. He says the basic hardware aspect of it is set and that any subsequent changes to the existing spec would be implemented in firmware by Brocade, meaning that its existing FCoE products have intercepted the standard and will remain compliant with it as it develops.

He points out that NetApp already sells Brocade's SAN management software, DCFM, and that DCFM has been developed to manage the FCoE CNAs, top of rack switch and the 10-24 blade.

This blade is called an end-of-row switch - it has a full Ethernet switch on board - although it is located in the DCX backbone switch and not at the end of a row of racks. The term end-of-row, he says, has a specific meaning in networking, indicating that it is the point where data from one network segment or domain enters another, in this case a backbone switch.

Zamer says that Brocade's 8000 switch supports CNAs from Emulex and QLogic, and its 1010 and 1020 CNAs support third-party FCoE switches. "We live in an eco-system and we need compatibility. Our DCFM management product will see Emulex and QLogic CNAs and manage them," he said.

When TRILL is deliverable then the DCX will be able to have FCOE-facing ports to both servers and storage arrays. In NetApp's case, this means that its arrays will be able to talk and operate within a multi-hop FCoE SAN fabric with SAN management functions carried out by the DCX, and FCoE data flowing to and fro from server CNAs through intervening FCoE switches, like the 8000, to the DCX and its arrays. At that point no Fibre Channel cables will be needed at all between servers and NetApp arrays. True Ethernet LAN and Fibre Channel storage traffic convergence onto Ethernet will be possible with NetApp arrays.

El Reg expects other storage array vendors to follow NetApp's lead and implement native FCoE front-end interfaces to their products. Indeed, EMC is clearly doing so.

Cisco has a problem. To follow Brocade's lead and to provide an FCoE upgrade path to its MDS Fibre Channel switch and director customers, it has to offer an FCoE-traffic handling capability to them. So far it has not indicated publicly it is going to do that. But nor has it said that it will provide SAN management functionality, such as zoning and VSANs, to its FCoE-capable Nexus Ethernet switch products. Logically it has to do one or the other, or both. Otherwise it is denying an FCoE migration path to its MDS users.

NetApp said 10GigE port deployments have increased more than 100 per cent since June 2008 in its customers, meaning rising from 3,000 to 7,500. It sells the Cisco FCoE products such as the Nexus switch.

Brocade's 8000 FCoE switch and 1010/1020 CNAs and the QLogic CNA are available from NetApp this month. The 10-24 FCoE blade for the DCX and the DCX-4S is planned to be available in September 2009. No prices were released. ®

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