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iSCSI vendors: Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) purely defensive

iSCSI vendors charge that a Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) proposal does little to address customer storage networking needs but preserves margins for Fibre Channel dealers.

The proposal a group of major storage vendors made earlier this month to create a standard that would let expensive, high-performance Fibre Channel gear connect directly to comparatively cheap Ethernet is being viewed by some analysts as a purely defensive move by Fibre Channel vendors.

Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) could be a way to slow the growth within the data center of iSCSI, which runs at gigabit-Ethernet (GigE) speeds, but promises to be a formidable alternative to Fibre Channel once 10 GigE becomes more common.

Presentations in support of the FCoE specification were made to the T11 Committee of the American National Standards Institute on April 4, backed by FC heavyweights including Sun Microsystems, IBM, Intel, EMC, Cisco, Brocade, QLogic and Emulex.

The committee also heard arguments for a Fibre Channel over Convergence Enhanced Ethernet (FCoCEE) standard that will converge storage, cluster and regular LAN socket traffic onto one interoperable network.

FCoCEE will also address difficulties with Ethernet, namely that small packets of data are left behind while large ones are transmitted over the network. The new standard will allow storage traffic to be prioritized and improve data transmission, according to Renato Recio, IBM's chief engineer of e-System networks.

Additionally, FC's infrastructure, including its switches will be cheaper, an issue proponents of iSCSI always said was a drawback to FC deployment.

"With convergence the customer doesn't have to buy an Ethernet adapter, an FC adapter and an HPC adapter and a 1 Gbps adapter to do management. You buy one adapter -- an FCoCEE adapter," Recio said.

Still, many are not convinced that there is genuine concern for storage network improvements and instead see the move as an attempt to stave off the possibility that FC customers will further deploy iSCSI in the data center.

John Joseph, vice president of marketing for enterprise-class iSCSI vendor EqualLogic, for example, charged that FCoE gets rid of the fiberoptics, but keeps the protocol, preserving margins and customer bases for the FC vendors at little benefit to the customers.

Arun Taneja, founder of FC vendor the Teneja Group said the proposal was an effort " on the part of the FC community to ensure that FC has longevity in the data center and that iSCSI does not de facto go into the data center just because we are going from 1 Gbit to 10 GigE."

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Taneja also said FCoE and FCoCEE will compete much more directly with iSCSI than FC did in the past – especially departments and remote offices where iSCSI deployment has grown rapidly.

"If the Fibre Channel community is successful in bringing FCoE over 10 Gbit, then one could argue why do you need iSCSI? If you are convincing a customer to stay with FC and you are 100% successful with convergence and with FCoE, data center customers may put iSCSI out to pasture," Taneja said.

Rich Kuhar, vice president of business development at value-added reseller ARKAY Storage Solutions, Inc of Akron, Ohio said FCoE validates iSCSI's relevance as a storage infrastructure.

"This is a complete indication that iSCSI isn't going anywhere but up. The FC community had to do something given the threat of iSCSI's popularity," Kuhar said. Currently iSCSI implementation represent two-thirds of Arkay's infrastructure deployments with FC representing one-third.

Kuhar said his company will continue to implement both FC and iSCSI at least until 2009, when the first FCoE products are due to ship.

In the meantime, companies like LeftHand Networks, which has placed all its efforts on building an iSCSI-only company, unveiled last week 10 Gbit Ethernet iSCSI SANs, which it will demonstrate this week at the Storage Networking World Conference in San Diego.

John Fanelli, vice president of marketing for LeftHand Networks, said it's natural to see large vendors with an established base in a technology where they are making good margins be less excited about the entrance of new technologies from smaller companies that satisfy customer demand.

"The Fibre Channel market is clearly a transition technology. IP and Ethernet has clearly won the data center and by 2009 10 GigE will be pervasive. This is a little too little, a little too late," Fanelli said.

Let us know what you think about this story; email: Nicole Lewis, Senior News Writer.

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