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July 27, 2012

FCoE: stillborn 3 years later

Filed under: Networking — Tags: — Nate @ 9:44 am

At least the hype for the most part has died off, as the market has not really transitioned much over to FCoE since it’s launch a few years ago. I mentioned it last year, and griped about it in one of my early posts in 2009 around when Cisco was launching their UCS, along with NetApp both proclaiming FCoE was going to take over.

Brocade has been saying for some time that FCoE adoption was lacking, a few short months ago Emulex came out and said about the same, and more recently Qlogic chiming in with another me too story.

FCoE – the emulated version of Fibre Channel running over Ethernet – is not exactly selling like hot cakes and is not likely to do so anytime soon, so all that FCoE-flavoured Ethernet development is not paying off yet.

More and more switches out there are supporting the Data Center Bridging protocols but those die hard Fibre Channel users aren’t showing much interest in it. I imagine the problem is more political than anything else at many larger organizations. The storage group doesn’t trust the networking group and would rather have control over their own storage network, and not share anything with the network group. I’ve talked to several folks over recent years where storage divisions won’t even consider something that is exclusively iSCSI for example for the company because it means the networking folks have to get involved and that’s not acceptable. Myself, I have had a rash of issues with certain Qlogic 10GbE network cards over the past 7 months which makes me really glad I’m not reliant on ethernet-based storage (there is some of it but all of the critical stuff is good ‘ol Fibre channel – on entirely Qlogic infrastructure again). The rash of issues finally ressurected a bad set of memories I had trying to troubleshoot network issues on some Broadcom NICs a few years ago with regards to something buggy called MSI-X. It took about six months to track that problem down, the symptoms were just so bizarre. My current issues with 10GbE NICs aren’t all that critical because of the level of redundancy that I have and the fact that storage is run over regular ‘ol FC.

I know Qlogic is not alone in their issues with 10GbE, a little company by the name of Clearwire in Seattle I know had what amounted to something like a 14 hour outage a year or two ago on their Cisco UCS platform because of bugs in the Cisco stuff that they had(I think it was bugs around link flapping or something). I know others have had issues too, it sort of surprises me how long 10GbE has been around and we still seem to have quite a few issues with it, at least on the HBA side.

iSCSI has had it’s issues too over the years, at least iSCSI in the HBAs, I was talking to one storage company late last year who has an iSCSI-only product and they said how iSCSI is ready for prime time, but after further discussion they clarified well you really only should use it with offloading NIC X or Y or software stack Z. iSCSI was a weak point for a long time on the 3PAR platform, they’ve addressed it to some extent on the new V-series, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they still don’t support anything other than pure software initiators.

TCP is very forgiving to networking issues, storage of course is not. In the current world of virtualization with people consolidating things on fewer, larger systems, the added cost of FC really isn’t that much. I wouldn’t be slapping FC cards in swaths of $3-5k servers, most servers that run VMs have gobs of memory which of course drives the price quite a bit higher than that.

Data center bridging really does nothing when your NIC decides to stop forwarding jumbo frame packets, or when the link starts flapping, or when the firmware crashes, or if the ASIC overheats. The amount of time it often takes for software to detect a problem with the link and fail over to a backup link alone is big enough to cause major issues with storage if it’s a regular occurrence. All of the networks I’ve worked on at least in the past decade or so always have operated at a tiny fraction of their capacity, the bottlenecks are typically things like firewalls between zones (and whenever possible I prefer to rely on switch ACLs to handle that).

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