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Unifying The Infrastructure

We've spent the last several entries discussing the unification of storage and there is one aspect of unification that I have not discussed; unifying the infrastructure. I do currently have a series of videos currently running with Information Week on FCoE so in this entry I'll just touc
We've spent the last several entries discussing the unification of storage and there is one aspect of unification that I have not discussed; unifying the infrastructure. I do currently have a series of videos currently running with Information Week on FCoE so in this entry I'll just touch on the high points.Companies like Brocade, Cisco, Emulex and QLogic have all brought FCoE products to the market. Some are a little more aggressive with their enthusiasm than others. While some are hinting at a broad sweeping changeout, IT does not typically happen that way, especially at the infrastructure level. Infrastructure unification via FCoE is likely to happen a rack at a time. While there are a few corner cases, most data centers are not going to rip out their current fibre cable infrastructure for a new one. The exception being if you are building a new data center from scratch. It is critical that the supplier you choose for FCoE remains fully committed to standard fibre channel (FC).

There will be servers that already have existing separate fibre and IP connections within existing racks that you may need to upgrade either the IP or fibre performance to. Replacing the whole rack's cable management to upgrade the performance of one server may not be worth the effort. Additionally it is possible that these servers will need more performance that 10GBE connection can provide, and you may want the flexibility to move to 16GB FC for example.

Second, don't expect much from FCoE in this first iteration other than a reduced number of cables and potentially lowering the total cost of network interface cards (NICs). The reduced number of cables should lead to simplified cable management in the data center. Cable management, as we discussed in our four part series "Climbing out of the Spaghetti", in today's data center has risen almost to an art form. Any reduction in the number of cables is a huge step into bringing that process under control.

The other benefit of FCoE is a reduced number of NIC cards, although initially these may cost almost as much as the individual cards that go in servers; as is always the case the cost of these cards will come down over time. Price is not be the key factor here, heat is. By reducing the number of slots occupied by cards you increase airflow which should reduce heat and as a result power and cooling costs.

FCoE gets particularly interesting as companies begin to leverage some of the capabilities of the standard that will allow advanced integrated topology management and the ability to begin to imbed NIC level Quality of Service (QoS), which will be particularly helpful in virtual environments.

More on the need for NIC QoS and managing the IO Blender of Virtualization in our next entry.

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George Crump is founder of Storage Switzerland, an analyst firm focused on the virtualization and storage marketplaces. It provides strategic consulting and analysis to storage users, suppliers, and integrators. An industry veteran of more than 25 years, Crump has held engineering and sales positions at various IT industry manufacturers and integrators. Prior to Storage Switzerland, he was CTO at one of the nation's largest integrators.