I've been quietly tracking FCoE, and -- not surprisingly -- it appears to be on its way to achieving critical mass.
And, it's not just me who's noticed the same thing.
So, What Is FCoE Again?
We love acronyms in this industry, don't we? This one stands for "Fibre Channel over Ethernet".
The storage networking world has largely adopted the FC protocols, but has always been intrigued by achieving the cost points associated with ethernet technologies.
The popular iSCSI protocol attempted to address this "best of both worlds" approach, but did it over IP protocols, rather than using "bare metal" ethernet frames. For this and other reasons, iSCSI has done well in smaller environments, but is rarely (if ever) seen in large scale corporate SANs.
I'm probably going to get another round of vitriolic comments from the iSCSI fanboy club on this last statement, but facts are facts, folks.
FCoE is different -- it delivers the exact same behavior as FC, but does it over 10Gb ethernet. Now, if you're responsible for a large, corporate FC SAN, this is intriguing to you on several levels.
You're interested in the lower server-attach costs if server vendors (and HBA) vendors deliver FCoE-capable hardware at lower cost than current FC alternatives. You're intrigued with the idea of converged data center switches (like Cisco's new Nexus platform) that offer perhaps a better approach than dedicated FC switches and directors.
If you're a large SAN person, you're keeping an eye on this.
Others Are Keeping An Eye As Well
Perhaps the best summary writeup I've seen was from Mary Jander over at Byte&Switch, who provides a nice recap of recent industry activities in this space.
From my perspective, perhaps the most surprising thing about the article was her surprised tone. I think she and others had initially dismissed FCoE as JASSS -- Just Another Silly Storage Standard.
Well, I can understand the skepticism, but I felt early on that this one was very different -- it solved a legitimate problem, and did it in such a way that everyone could benefit: customers as well as vendors.
So, When Is FCoE Going To Be Available?
I get asked that question a lot. Unfortunately, there's no hard-and-fast date. I could be smug, and say -- technically -- you can go out and buy FCoE products today if you really, really want to. But, of course, no one is really doing that yet.
What happens with these standards is that -- over time -- vendors start added FCoE support to their products, building an ecosystem of things that work together, and --- most importantly -- maturing their solutions.
Customers look at this, and make their own decisions as to whether they'll get started with the new stuff, whether it's mature enough for their tastes, not to mention pragmatic things like funding, refresh cycles and all of that.
My personal guess? We'll see lots of product announcements during 2008, and we'll see the first wave of signficant deployments during the first part of 2009. I'm guessing it'll be one of the "cool storage projects" in larger IT departments in about a year.
I was part of EMC when FC SANs first hit the market -- EMC was out in front of this one -- and there was a fair degree of evangelism, early trials, etc. before FC SANs become mainstream. When we brought FC SANs to market, it took a few years of evangelism to convince the majority of people to move of off direct-connect SCSI, and think in terms of FC networks.
I don't think it'll take anywhere as long this time around ....