HP Ends the Protocol Wars

What is the best protocol for virtualized environments?  For years we’ve been hearing arguments for NFS, iSCSI and FC (and more recently FCoE).  This week HP sent a strong message with their Virtual Connect Flex Fabric launch that the answer is YES! In the new BladeSystem G7, customers can Wire Once and support NFS, iSCSI, FCoE or FC.  This is an industry first for a switch module which can dynamically support FC and Ethernet.

There is a great write-up of the new BladeSystem G7 on Kevin Houston’s Blades Made Simple blog (the photo above is also from his site).

How this changes the FCoE story

One of the best things about FCoE is that it can work seamlessly with existing FC environments since it is simply transporting Fibre Channel over Ethernet (a 1:1 encapsulation).  From an application and storage management perspective, FCoE looks and acts like FC.  While I’ve seen that customers understand and have interest in FCoE, there is always difficulty overcoming inertia to purchase and deploy new technologies.  With HP’s solution, customers can buy a single product that can span from today’s configurations (configure with 4 10GbE ports for the existing LAN and 4 FC ports for the existing SAN) to a variety of potential future solutions (change the 4 FC ports to 10GbE by changing what is plugged into the other end of the wire).  For the FC configuration, there is FCoE inside the Blade Server, which is pre-configured by HP so that it is not exposed to the customer.  Even so, customers are not locked into FC or FCoE; they can choose iSCSI or NFS.  There is a cost and power savings by moving to a single network inside the Blade Server.  Regarding FCoE, I am uncertain of the configurations that are supported today – is the switch FIP snooping like the Nexus 4000 to allow connection to a ToR switch? Can a native FCoE storage array be directly attached?  UPDATE: After further clarification, the FCoE is only from the adapter to switch where it is converted to FC.  The Ethernet ports will not support FCoE.

Ecosystem impact

There are two important design wins that were announced as part of the Virtual Connect Flex Fabric launch.  The switch discussed above is a QLogic product.  Dave Vellante covers the QLogic angle well in his post: Tectonic Shifts in the Data Center Ripple Through to FC Suppliers.  The other design win is the LOM (LAN on Motherboard) from Emulex. Just like the switch, the adapter supports NFS, iSCSI and FC (by sending FCoE to the switch).  FCoE is currently in the early adopter phase; when FCoE is available on all servers as a standard configuration (LOM), there will be pressure on data center administrators to use this “free” option.  Intel and Broadcom are the primary players for 1Gb LOM solutions, now Emulex has shown that the FC suppliers can win converged 10GbE LOM business.  Now that we can stop arguing over the protocols, what comes after blades?  There was a good panel at GigOm’s Structure Conference that discussed that very topic.

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