Network convergence: Bringing storage and data center networks together

Bringing storage and data center networks together, or network convergence, is a monumental task that requires an immense amount of planning. Networking professionals must be able to understand storage protocols and make proper decisions regarding storage.

In this video, technical editor Michael Brandenburg sits down with Stuart Miniman, an analyst for the Wikibon Project. Miniman discusses Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) vs. iSCSI vs. Infiniband over Ethernet in terms of network convergence, and whether or not FCoE-ready equipment is required. Miniman also discusses the role of virtual I/O in network convergence.


About the speaker: Stuart Miniman is an analyst and research lead for networking and virtualization for The Wikibon Project.  He has worked extensively on supporting the adoption of new networking technologies to the market including Fibre Channel, iSCSI, FCoE and Distance Solutions (GigE, FCIP, iFCP, SONET, WDM). Stuart worked at EMC for 10 years; with a primary focus on storage networking and virtualization technologies.

Read the full transcript from this video below:  

Network convergence: Bringing storage and data center networks together

Michael Brandenburg: Hello. I'm Michael Brandenburg, technical editor for Today I am with Stuart Miniman, Senior
Analyst for Wikibon, talking about network convergence. Let's
start with the basic: Why network convergence? Why can't we
continue to manage separate data center and storage networks?

Stuart Miniman: Great question. The idea of network convergence has been around
for decades. If you think about it from a basic standpoint, if I
can have everything on one network, it should be simpler from a
capital expense and from an operational expense. It should be a lot
easier, but there's been a challenge to have your
application really meet up with your network and what teams
support that. It's something that we have tried over and over
again. There have been technologies that have
come up and been the latest and greatest, but it's only
recently that we really feel that this time, network convergence is going to be real.

Michael Brandenburg: Why is there so much emphasis on FCOE considering convergence
can occur on iSCSI or even InfiniBand over Ethernet?

Stuart Miniman: SCOE was the hot topic for a couple of years, and I think
we're hopefully past the peak of the hype on FCOE because
really, at the end of the day, it's not about FCOE, it's about
convergence and what we can do. FCOE is a solution that can be
used to get all of your environment onto Ethernet. FCOE is a
great solution; it makes it really simple for enterprise
customers to be able to take their existing fiber channel
environments and move them into a converged Ethernet environment
with the same processes that they have today.  iSCSI is not
dead, by any means. iSCSI has been growing quite well,
especially in environments where you have a single person
managing the server, storage and network,  iSCSI is great.

 iSCSI tends to work in smaller accounts, so it does not hit the
press as much. It is much bigger when Wall Street wants to talk
about what their IT departments are doing, not what the S&P or
commercial space is doing. That is why there is more hype about
FCOE, but really, if you look at this market, there are a lot of
answers; Ethernet seems to be the prominent one; InfiniBand has
its place, but there are many options to get you to a single network.

Michael Brandenburg: In order to move to FCOE, do you have to invest in FCOE-ready
equipment, or can you begin your transition with existing
network infrastructure?

Stuart Miniman: The requirement to be able to go to FCOE is, first of all, on
the server side; you do need new adapters. There are hardware solutions, if you think
from a fiber channel environment, we have host bus
adapters. Traditionally, on Ethernet we have had just NIC cards.
You have to have a card that can work with Fibre Channel over
Ethernet. Most of those solutions today are hardware-based
solutions about what is called a converged network adapter,which is a new piece of equipment. Start with 10 Gigabit Ethernet, and you are buying a card or chip, or something that is
embedded from Emulex, QLogic or Brocade. There are software
solutions. Companies like Intel are moving forward to be able to
take a standard 10-gigabit NIC and run it with a software stack of
FCOE, but really, yes, from a server side, you are going to need
to have new hardware, and from the switch side, you have to have
a switch that can encapsulate and decapsulate Fibre Channel over
Ethernet and can create a lossless Ethernet environment. I got
a new piece on the server, I've got 10 gigabit Ethernet cabling
providing lossless Ethernet to the switch, and if I want full
end-to-end, we are also talking about storage that can support
FCOE. Today that's shipping from NetApp and EMC. There's a lot
of new pieces involved. It is a new evolution of Ethernet, but
new equipment, yes.

Michael Brandenburg: What is the role of Virtual IO in network convergence?

Stuart Miniman: It's interesting. Virtual I/O, I would say, is an orthogonal
topic to converge networking or even virtualization in general.
There are a lot of different topics out there, whether you are
talking about the standard, such as SR-IOV, or if you are talking
about converged I/O strategies that some vendors have to be able
to virtualize your I/O, whether that is with InfiniBand or with
standard Ethernet. The terminology is an empty one. I get to
spend a lot of my time taking all the marketing terms and all
the standards and explaining to people what they are. Virtual
I/O, there's plenty of different solutions out there, but it is
not a single topic. It is related to converged networking and
virtualization in general, but it really needs some more
maturity in the market place, and we are trying to help explain
all those different options that are out there.

Michael Brandenburg: Thank you, Stuart. I appreciate you taking your time today.

Stuart Miniman: Thank you.

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