A quandary facing CIOs today is that while IT organizations look to simplify infrastructure, they are faced with more choices than ever. Customers choose between the various storage networking options based on employee skill sets and expected application scalability and performance requirements. This week, QLogic announced a new line of adapters and switches that not only supports, but also allows flexibility between both 16Gb FC and 10Gb Ethernet. Products that span between multiple configurations allow customers to standardize on physical configurations, making a stable foundation to support the demanding requirements of virtual and cloud environments. As the market leader in FC HBAs, QLogic’s strategy is another proof point towards merging FC and Ethernet into a single solution set.
Storage industry slow to change
Storage administrators are notoriously slow to adopt change. The reason for this is quite simple; the job of a storage administrator is to provide reliable and consistent availability of information. Data loss or data unavailability can put a company out of business. While FC has proven itself to be a reliable and scalable protocol for storage, it took years of kicking and screaming to move most users from SCSI to FC. The forcing function for many storage administrators was not performance, but from a cabling standpoint, FC supported longer cables and smaller connectors, which allowed for more servers to attach to a centralized array than SCSI could. As discussed in an article earlier this year about 16Gb FC, adoption of new FC speeds takes 2-3 years to ramp up (which is still 2-3x faster than Ethernet generations).
HBAs, CNAs and NICs come together
Emulex and QLogic are both bringing forth solutions that can support both 16Gb FC and 10Gb Ethernet personalities. Together, Emulex and QLogic make up over 90% of the FC HBA market and while both are committed to the FC roadmap (32Gb FC is under development), it is significant that going forward, both company’s FC HBAs will have the capability of changing personalities to be Ethernet adapters. Note that the Ethernet support is not limited to FCoE (CNA), but also includes full Ethernet/IP stacks (like other NICs). While QLogic and Emulex dominate the FC HBA (initiator) market, most FC storage arrays (targets) use the Tachyon controller that PMC Sierra bought from Agilent a few years ago. PMC Sierra will not be creating a 16Gb FC controller, presumably due to diminishing returns; QLogic and Emulex will vie to pick up the storage design wins and future storage arrays will be able to support FC or Ethernet from the same controllers.
QLogic’s new FlexSuite adapter family (the HBA version is the QLogic 2600 Series and the CNA version is the QLogic 8300 Series) builds on its 3GCNA solution launched last year, adding:
- Dual Personality (2 ports 8/16Gb FC or 2 ports 10GbE)
- Changing personalities is a software flash
- Note that for adapters, the optics for FC and Ethernet are different
- PCIe Gen 3
- 10GBase-T support (note that this will support FCoE in the future)
The new adapters are currently in qualification with OEMs and are expected to ship in early 2012.
Bringing Flexibility to FC Switching
Today, switches that bring FC and Ethernet together are considered FCoE switches. HP and Cisco offer switches that have ports that can switch between FC and Ethernet. HP’s current “flex port” solution is limited to its blade server environment, while Cisco’s “unified port” is only in the Nexus 5548/5596 edge switches. QLogic’s UAP5900 switch (expected to ship in mid-2012) is expected to be the first 16Gb FC switch with ports that can also support 10Gb Ethernet (the current HP and Cisco products support 8Gb FC/10GbE). Here are some of the features of QLogic’s switch:
- 1U switch supporting 52 16Gb FC / 10GbE ports plus 4 64Gb FC / 40GbE QSFP expansion ports
- Each port can be individually configured for FC or Ethernet
- The 4 expansion ports can be split into 4 additional 16Gb FC ports or used for connecting to core switches or stacking with other UAP5900s
- Optic options include FC, Ethernet and ones that support both protocols (these are not only supported by QLogic, but they are a recent advancement)
- Includes VEPA support
There are a number of OEMs that could benefit from this product, which goes beyond previous FCoE switches by allowing more flexibility between traditional FC and Ethernet options. With an attractive price point and support for both Cisco and Brocade FC environments, the QLogic switch makes both a good test platform and migration solution for customers that want to start down the path to convergence while still supporting either full FC or Ethernet environments as needed.
Action Item: Consolidation and convergence are important trends for customers that want to squeeze greater utility from infrastructure. IT organizations are faced with a rapidly changing technology landscape and CIOs should be looking for flexible solutions that can extend hardware refresh cycles. The merging of FC and Ethernet into a single solution set simplifies the choices for users and allows hardware to be deployed regardless of the changing application requirements.
Footnotes: See also 16Gb Fibre Channel Provides a Path Towards Convergence
Stu Miniman is a Principal Research Contributor for Wikibon. He focuses on networking, virtualization, Infrastructure 2.0 and cloud technologies. Stu can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or twitter (@stu).