Converged enhanced Ethernet to force network and storage collaboration

A new data center network architecture is on the horizon, thanks to the arrival of converged enhanced Ethernet (CEE) and the rise of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). With storage traffic destined to traverse IP networks, networking pros will have to learn how to get along and collaborate with storage pros.

This is the second story in the series "Converged Enhanced Ethernet and the Future of Data Center Networks." In part one of the series, we explored what can be done today with converged enhanced Etherent and FCoE, and what will be possible tomorrow.

Regardless of how an enterprise ultimately decides to deploy converged enhanced Ethernet (CEE) and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), one thing is certain: This new data-center-network architecture will force networking pros to associate themselves -- and collaborate -- with storage pros.

Oh N0!

"The networking teams and storage teams do not play well together," said Joe Skorupa, research vice president at Gartner. "It's open animosity on a good day, and it goes downhill from there pretty quick."

Skorupa says the historical rifts that have long kept storage and networking pros from grabbing beers together after work could inhibit many enterprises from fully embracing the data-center-network architecture vision espoused by Cisco Systems and other vendors that have begun embracing converged enhanced Ethernet and FCoE.

When the products on the market finally catch up with that vision, enterprises will have the option of running everything – storage and traditional data traffic -- on one CEE wire and one converged data- center-network infrastructure, ideally with a really big chassis switch in the core managing both storage and data simultaneously.

Skorupa said there are plenty of reasons why some enterprises might decline to pursue this all the way. One reason that really stands out for him is the lack of warm and fuzzy feelings between the networking and storage teams.

It boils down to cultural differences -- differing perspectives born from the technologies and baseline requirements that the two disciplines manage. In the storage world, perfection is a baseline requirement. Anything less will result in lost data. In the world of IP networks and Ethernet, Skorupa said, networking pros have long lived with networks being just "good enough."

These two camps have always had starkly different attitudes about data-center-network architecture, and those differences were bad enough. But when the storage pros watched the networking guys and IP heads wipe out a couple of the other IT silos, cultural differences morphed into outright opposition. "[Networking guys] were the outsiders. They were the hordes storming the castle of Token Ring and IBM and Nortel TDM voice. And these renegades won," Skorupa said. "They killed off the voice guys and the IBM networking guys. If you look at it derisively, the storage guys would say [the networking guys] are a bunch of cowboys who don't know how to keep a network up and running seven-by-24."

More on converged enhanced Ethernet and FCoE
Converged enhanced Ethernet and FCoE are ready for server racks today, for the core someday.

Should your vendor have a converged enhanced Ethernet strategy by now?

Converged enhanced Ethernet protocols are on the way.

With the Nexus 7000, Cisco aims to conquer the data center with one fabric.

"The networking guys will look over at the storage and server guys and say these guys are a bunch of luddites who are still living in the 1800s, who think everything should be powered by steam," he said. "The storage guys realize that if you lose something, it's gone forever. There's no retransmission. In the IP guys' world, well if there's some congestion, 'Hey, we won't worry about it. We'll route around it. It might be slow for a while, but we'll come around and fix it when we get a chance.' On the storage and server side, if you don't get your backups done and your apps up and running, the next day you could find yourself in front of the Securities and Exchange Commission explaining why you broke federal regulations."

Like it or not, CEE and FCoE will find their way into many data-center-network architectures. Whether enterprises adopt these technologies throughout 100% of their data centers or adopt them strategically in one server rack here and another server rack there, one thing is clear: Storage traffic will run over Ethernet at some point in many data centers. And storage and networking pros will have to collaborate.

Vendors know that collaboration among networking and storage pros is inevitable, which is why a storage company like EMC would go out and buy a network configuration and change management vendor like Voyence. It's also the impetus for a network management vendor like SolarWinds to buy storage resource management technology from Tek-Tools.

CEE and FCoE will force dogs and cats to live together

"I've had more collaboration with [the storage and server teams] in the last two months than I have had in the last 10 years," said Greg Catalano, senior IT staff specialist for Boise Inc., an Idaho-based paper manufacturer. Catalano, who is part of his company's network management team, has been involved in a data center redesign project that will rip out an Enterasys Networks data center infrastructure and replace it with Cisco's Nexus 7000 and 5000 switches. Ultimately, converged enhanced Ethernet and FCoE will be running throughout the data center, except in some areas around legacy servers and storage.

"The storage and server guys have traditionally not talked to us," Catalano said. "This [Nexus and FCoE project] has really been a catalyst with moving forward with a more unified approach between these departments. I've been at Boise for 23 years, and this is the first time in those 23 years that I've seen a collaborative effort between these departments."

That collaboration will bring great value to his company in the form of cross-functional training and cross-functional support, he said. Just knowing what the guys in the other silo are doing will ultimately provide better service to the company.

"We are jointly working on the configuration of the Nexus 5000," Catalano said. "[The networking team] will be attending some storage classes to learn how storage works, and they'll be attending some networking classes to understand how networking works. We're even talking about rotating staff members. I might go over and work with the storage guys for three months and vice versa. That stuff has been discussed and agreed to. And from the beginning, we've been sitting together as a group and working on the configuration of switches and servers and storage, and we have been having collaborative meetings on how this stuff is going to work."

"Check in with me in six or eight months, and I'll let you know how it's going," he added. "But right now, I think this is going to work pretty well."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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