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Is Fibre Channel over Ethernet really ready for primetime?

Ask Cisco executives about Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) deployment in data center and storage networks and they’ll tell you it’s a no-brainer. The technology will be ready for volume deployment by next year or 2010, and the channel should gear up and start training now.

Ask Brocade, a major Fibre Channel switch rival, and they’ll tell you to hold your horses — the enterprise is not ready to re-jigger entire data centers and the technology won’t take off until 2012. In fact, Brocade spent its Technology Day at the end of June warning that it would take its time with FCoE, not even doing customer testing until 2009. Brocade also said it would continue developing straight Fibre Channel equipment since that would be the dominant protocol for enterprise storage until at least 2014 . Cisco was happy to quickly counter Brocade in the press.

Last week, Cisco, QLogic and NetApp — which all have a deep relationship — looked to put the whole flap to rest by announcing that third party testing auditor Demartek decreed FCoE ready for prime time (or “quick adoption” as they put it) after testing 14 storage, server and software vendors using the technology. The announcement came out of the QLogic camp.

The 14 companies ran hardware and software applications on an FCoE network, and participants reportedly found that their devices easily recognized both plain Fibre Channel and FCoE. All of the traffic went through Cisco’s newly released 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches.

FCoE technology aims to combine Fibre Channel and Ethernet in the network, but easily integrate into a pure Fibre Channel environment. According to QLogic’s statement, the testing showed complete compatibility between FCoE and straight Fibre Channel and is an indication that end user adoption will “be easy and swift.”

“While we recognize that enterprise infrastructures take a number of years to change and some minor protocol issues still need to be resolved, we believe that FCoE will soon take its place as a viable, stable enterprise-ready protocol,” said Demartek’s president Dennis Martin. In fact, there are still a few kinks, including the fact that the FCoE standard hasn’t been fully approved yet.

It is in Cisco’s best interest for the results of this testing to be true and for FCoE acceptance to grow as quickly as possible. Cisco’s Data Center 3.0 initiative — which includes the release of the switch used in the FCoE testing — has been a huge part of its channel push this year. The company extended its partner VIP program with 5% to 10% back-end rebates for growth in data center sales. Cisco also launched a data center partner specialization.

If the results of the testing are accurate, it will still be up to Cisco’s channel to convince enterprise customers of the benefits of switching over.

Other companies that took part in the testing include, Computer Associates, DataDirect Networks, EMC, FalconStor, Finisar, HP, Infortrend, LSI, Microsoft, MiraLink, Promise Technology and Symantec.

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