Original URL: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/04/10/qlogic_fcoe/

QLogic claims FCoE queue lead

Fills InfiniBand niche

By Chris Mellor

Posted in Storage, 10th April 2009 13:02 GMT

QLogic says it is at the front of the FCoE queue. Talking with Henrik Hansen's QLogic's EMEA marketing director, we learn that QLogic is convinced it is well ahead of Emulex and Brocade with its Converged Network Adapter (CNA) efforts.

These 8100 series cards, featuring a second generation ASIC, are available in 1- and 2-port versions using either copper wire or optical cable connects. Hansen said Cisco's Nexus requires a passive copper wire, whilst Brocade needs an active one. On the optical side, QLogic will support all the SFPs (Small Form-factor Pluggables) transceivers needed by the switch vendors. The card includes a single ASIC including processor, memory, SerDes, and FCoE offload engine. (Brocade's CNAs also include full FCoE processing).

QLogic's first generation CNA had a quite large form factor with five separate chips on it. A Nuova FCoE ASIC, an Intel 10GigE chip, a QLogic 4Gbit/s Fibre Channel HBA chip, a PCI switch, and a SerDes. These functions were combined into a single ASIC for the gen 2 CNA, the same size as QLogic's 8Gbit/s FC HBA.

CNA qualification

QLogic is working to get tier 1 server vendor qualification, meaning Dell, HP, IBM, honorary tier 1 server vendor Cisco, and also Sun, classed as a near-tier 1 server vendor in my book. It has design wins from amongst these server vendors, it says, but none can be made public yet. This is the same general stance on FCoE server qualification that Brocade and Emulex have: "Yes we have design wins; no we can't say who." Hansen did mention that Nehalem-based servers were involved though.

The company is also working on CNA qualification with Cisco switches, Brocade switches, Ethernet switches from Blade Network Technologies, and is also involved with networking vendor Juniper. However, Hansen isn't aware of any engineering engagement by Juniper.

QLogic is also working on qualification with Broadcom, Intel, and Neterion, and these three are talking about getting into the FCoE space. If they used hardware FCoE processing, via QLogic, then FCoE performance would be faster than using an FCoE software stack from Microsoft on the host server.

Hansen believes that the server vendors are getting QLogic CNA hardware months in advance of Emulex, and Brocade: "It's at least a four months lead."

Interestingly, Emulex says it has announced CNA and OEM shipment two months before both QLogic and Brocade. Make of this claim and counter-claim what you will.

He doesn't think there is any customer mileage to be gained by coupling particular CNAs and switches to gain better storage access performance or quality of service, as Brocade is promising with its FCoE products, saying: "I don't believe customers will buy CNAs unless they are complely standard. They wouldn't want to be tied down to a specific choice of CNA vendor."

He reckons that the sever vendors won't be sympathetic to a linked Brocade CNA-to-switch play, even as a counter to CIsco's UCS blade server and switch system, because they know their customers won't want to step into a Brocade walled garden. He thinks that with QLogic's greater than 70 per cent share of blade server Fibre Channel connections and 58 per cent worldwide share of 8Gbit/s HBAs, Brocade will have to link its 8000 switch to QLogic's CNAs as well as its own.

Storage vendor FCoE design-ins

Hansen said QLogic is also working with tier 1 storage array vendors, aiming to get its CNA ASIC installed on their array controller boards so they could speak native FCoE and so link direct to an Ethernet switch without any intervening Fibre Channel fabric. Again, it won't say who, but we can guess that the ranks include EMC, HDS, and NetApp.

NetApp has already demonstrated a native FCoE connection. Personally, I'd be surprised if Compellent wasn't also talking to QLogic and the other CNA vendors possibly. We know 3PAR will add an FCoE interface to its arrays next year. Then there are HP with its EVA range, IBM, Sun, and Pillar, not forgetting Fujitsu.

Dell isn't listed here because its Fibre Channel arrays come courtesy of EMC. However, knowing that Compellent very likely has FCoE ambitions, we might speculate about Dell talking to Qlogic and Emulex about FCoE and EqualLogic - there is a certain logic to it, no?

These storage suppliers all have the same problem of having to connect their Fibre Channel arrays to a data centre world heading for FCoE. We can assume, quite reasonably, that they all have FCoE interface considerations underway.

Looking at the server, switch, and storage array vendor FCoE activity it seems there is an FCoE surge under way. Hansen thinks the infrastructure is being put in place far faster than people realise: "I've never seen anything (equivalent) move this fast."

Roadmap

Hansen said QLogic's roadmap includes a shrink of the 8100 to a mezzanine card for blade servers - expect a June announcement - and then a shrink to a single chip which would be installed on a server's motherboard. (Brocade has a single chip target in its road map also). The QLogic single CNA chip could have encryption on it, although no server OEMs have requested that feature, as there is enough real-estate to do so.

QLogic also makes Fibre Channel switch products with HP and IBM both taking its embedded switches. The company also sells stackable switches - HP OEMs them - for the edge of Fibre Channel fabrics, the 9000 line. This line is getting a little long in the tooth and has not been refreshed although there is a development roadmap. The company's share of the central switch/director market is falling, and it may exit that product space.

Hansen is not aware of any QLogic plans to build FCoE switches.

InfiniBand

QLogic also makes InfiniBand Host Channel Adapters (HCAs) but there's no intention to build a a converged HCA and CNA: "There isn't the demand in the market for it."

However, QLogic will carry on shipping and developing InfiniBand products. Hansen laid out three InfiniBand niche markets: High-Performance Computing (HPC); connecting storage arrays in a cluster (think Isilon and the HP Oracle Database Machine); and connecting blade servers inside an infrastructure. These, Hansen reckons, are stable niches.

There is the possibility of a VLAN-like concept coming to InfiniBand so that parts of an InfiniBand fabric could be sub-divided and isolated from each other, with routing of data between segments. Another possibility is virtualising an HCA so that multiple virtual machines could share one in a virtualised server environment.

He's not seeing any activities along the line of shrinking an HCA to a chip so that it could fit on server motherboards. Again, it seems, the market is too small to justify such an effort. There could be, he says, 2m CNA ports by 2013 but the number of InfiniBand ports will be much, much less.

Altogether Hansen is very bullish about FCoE and implies that the take-up will be rapid. Of course, customers will also need to be convinced that their Ethernet suppliers are shipping standard data centre Ethernet and that is not likely to happen until late 2010/early 2011, meaning plenty of time for QLogic's CNA competitors to get their FCoE ducks lined up as well. ®