Vendors Propose Fibre Channel Over Ethernet Standard

A group of networking and storage vendors led by Emulex Corp., EMC, Brocade and others has proposed a new standard for using the Fibre Channel protocol over Ethernet. The new technology specification is called Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and was presented to the T11 Committee of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

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The goal of the proposed standard, according to the vendors backing it, is to allow enterprises to attach the majority of lower-level data center servers to SANs.

With Fibre Channel in place and iSCSI gaining ground on the IP front, why the need for FCoE?

“Today we have separate networks for storage and traffic in the data center,” Brian Garrett an analyst is Enterprise Strategy Group, said. “For enterprise-class applications, FC is the king. For general purpose networking, Ethernet rules.”

The problem that each is managed differently by different groups and require separate tools for configuration and monitoring. “Clearly a converged fabric would reduce cost and complexity,” Garrett said.

“In the end, the decision between iSCSI or Fibre Channel over Ethernet could come down to culture and politics.”

—Brian Garrett,
Enterprise Strategy Group

Mike Smith, executive vice president of worldwide marketing at Emulex, said server virtualization and blade servers are two of the driving forces behind the proposed protocol. As those technologies become more commonly deployed in data centers, FCoE will consolidate storage for those servers on a SAN. For example, Smith said, “Blade servers not designed to manage storage.”

FCoE is expected to enable SAN traffic to be natively transported over Ethernet networks, while protecting and extending the investment enterprises have made in storage networks. The proposal for a new direct mapping of Fibre Channel over Ethernet has the support Brocade, Cisco, EMC, Emulex Corp., IBM, Intel, Nuova, QLogic and Sun Microsystems.

Fibre Channel was originally designed for new mass storage devices and other peripheral devices that require very high bandwidth — more than Ethernet historically has provided. Fibre Channel supports full-duplex data transfer rates of 100MBps. However, Ethernet is becoming more attractive for storage neworks as its speed continues to increase thanks to standards such as 10 Gigabit Ethernet.

FCoE would allow enterprises to continue to run Fibre Channel over the same wires as their data networks. The goal, according to the companies proposing FCoE, is to reduce management complexity, reduce time to deployment, lower capital and operating costs, and lower power utilization.

According to the companies, FCoE will provide a unified fabric that’s designed to meet the reliability, latency and performance requirements for storage and broader data center connectivity. The group described today’s announcement as the first of many steps toward the development of this future standard.

With Fibre Channel locked in on the high-end and iSCSI gain ground of the low-end, FCoE will fit in between the two protocol, Smith said, as a mid-tier solution.

While the technology is important, the proposed standard also addresses some nontechnical issues. “In the end, the decision between iSCSI or FCoE could come down to culture and politics,” Enterprise Strategy Group’s Garrent said.

A move to iSCSI would require Fibre Channel admins to work with the networking admins, which could potentially cause tension. “FCoE enables the storage team to move towards Ethernet on its own terms. FCoE integrates better with their SANs than iSCSI and provides a platform for converged storage and networking traffic over time — again on their own terms.”

Dan Muse is executive editor of’s Small Business Channel, EarthWeb’s Networking Channel and ServerWatch.

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