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Cisco fleshes out FCoE offering

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Cisco has fleshed out is Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) offering with an end-to-end-capability from servers to storage arrays and back again via Nexus and MDS9500 switches.

FCoE involves the transmission of Fibre Channel protocol messages along Ethernet links. Because Fibre Channel relies on a deterministic network that does not drop frames – two notions alien to standard Ethernet – a new form of Ethernet, Converged Enhanced Ethernet, is needed. This form of Ethernet is lossless and has features to ensure FCoE packets cross its links quickly enough.

FCoE has been limited to single-hop links as any destination switches involved did not support the onward transmission of FCoE messages. Cisco competitor Brocade has already announced its own end-to-end FCoE products.

Cisco is adding line cards to its Nexus 7000 data centre switch and MDS9500 storage director switch. Previously the MDS9500 could only talk to back-end storage arrays using Fibre Channel, but now it can use FCoE as well. That means a switch like the Nexus 5000, which could already receive FCoE, can now pass FCoE messages to and through Nexus 7000 and MDS9500 switches to destination storage arrays and receive return FCoE messages.

It also means that functionalities provided to Fibre Channel, such as the VSAN (virtual SAN) can in principle be applied to FCoE too. Paul D'Cruz, who heads up Cisco's datacentre technology consulting team in the UK and Ireland, said: "VSANs using FCoE ... can come out and commit deterministic paths through Ethernet as well."

He said he expects Cisco storage partners, such as EMC and NetApp, to make their own FCoE announcements. NetApp has unified ports on its arrays already and D'Cruz expects FCoE to appear on the VNX and VNXe products from EMC. There is a rolling 90-day window of design, integration, test and build for vBlocks from VCE, and D'Cruz said: "We'll see this innovation roll into the vBlock VCE platform."

Incidentally, long-time senior EMC executive Frank Hauck has just been appointed as a president at VCE, reporting to chairman and CEO Michael Capellas. Hauck's EMC responsibilities will be spread around Pat Gelsinger's Information Infrastructure Products group.

Returning to FCoE, D'Cruz said it was practical to have an integrated manager looking after both Fibre Channel and Ethernet networking. He mentioned that discussions were ongoing inside Cisco about producing 16Gbit/s Fibre Channel capabilities, and so providing a migration path from the current 8Gbit/s FC products: "There's no date yet. FCoE can go to 40Gbit/s and beyond, so we'll see what happens. We're not restricting customers to one path."

This FCoE announcement is part of a much larger Cisco announcement involving unified network services, which integrate security and WAN optimisation into Cisco's offerings, and increased VMware integration offerings. There are also three newcomers to its fabric extension (FEX) portfolio, using the IEEE 802.1Qbh standard: Adapter FEX, VM-FEX, and FEX support on the Nexus 7000. ®

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