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Unified Fabric: The New SUV or Hybrid?

Interesting analogy I saw today in story from Byte & Switch blogger Frank Berry. He used the analogy of SUVs and their rather spartan initial models (can you say “early Ford Bronco” or “Cash for Clunkers”?) to the recent unified networking (in Cisco-speak “unified fabric“) offerings — the converging of traditional data and storage traffic over a single low latency and high performance 10Gb Ethernet pipe. I’m not sure if today’s unified networking offerings are quite as stripped down as a 1980s Bronco, and I’m sure the energy efficiency is much better. In fact, they may be much closer to an early 2000s Toyota Prius…

If you look at today’s unified networking offerings, many of the primary use cases are covered — from server virtualization and VM mobility support, to FCoE and multiple versions of fiber channel. While FCoE still has a ways to go for full standardization and extension, offerings from Cisco (and other vendors over time) can today achieve the radically simpler configurations (can you 8-10 --> 2 connections per server) and opex savings that drove the initial requirements for this technology + products. I’m not sure an old 1983 Ford Bronco could claim it provided solid four wheeling over mountains, was a good daily driver, and had 3rd fold down seats for 7 when hauling kids + friends to school… That said, unified networking (aka “fabric”) still has a long road ahead of it to become the standard for data center-wide transport. Not the least of which will be evolving buying centers and purchasing patterns, as Frank notes in his posting. I would debate a little here though, and share my view that the ROI of unified networking, and creating an external push towards a less silo’ed and more common-goaled data center team will shift some IT teams towards these solutions sooner than later, and not purely from legacy storage switch vendors as noted, but also from their Ethernet switch vendor. Overall, this will be a very interesting networking/IT architecture trend to follow, and hopefully the net result will be a more dynamic, energy efficient IT infrastructure, vs. more massive, gas burning Excursions and Suburbans hitting the data center highway… What are your thoughts on converging data center Ethernet and storage traffic — both benefits and your team’s willingness to deploy? Do you see a Bronco, Prius or something else?

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9 Comments.


  1. Mark Weiner

    Frank — we’re actually in agreement on the unified networking trend and timing…Am just thinking the starting point may be at Prius vs. Bronco stage of maturity today. But will certainly get to flat screen + iPod support + 7 heated seats soon enough.Now when we’ll have true plug-in electric SUVs, that’s anybody’s guess…

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  2. I don’t want to beat this horse (a Bronco) to death, but research shows that SUV customers routinely bought big SUVs because they thought: 1) they were more safe in a SUV than a car, 2) drivers felt more in control, and 3) drivers felt more empowered to deal with rough road conditions.Economic conditions are driving big-SUV buyers to more cost-effective alternatives, but I expect netowrk architects want to design-in enteprise class capabilities so 1) their job is safe, 2) so they can manage efficiently to stay in control, and 3) be empowered to deal with rapidly growing demand. I expect these network architects will find CEE is the cost-effective alternative to older technologies and gives them the best of both worlds.Oh, and visit a SUV showroom with your children and ask them how they feel about the flat-screen TV, hookups for their video game controllers, juice box holders, reading lights, cell phone pockets, and of course iPod connections. No kid on the planet is going to pass up the SUV user experience for a Prius.

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  3. Kash Shaikh

    so without going into the debate of Prius vs Bronco etc, I’d like to share my views based on conversations I’ve had with numerous customers who have deployed this solution in production, our eco-system partners & some key industry analysts.First of all just to make sure we are referring to same things here, FCoE is a INCITS/ANSI standard & was ratified in June 2009. CEE is not a standard, it’s a generic term for a collection of Ethernet enhancements some of which are covered in IEEE 802.1 DCB. Cisco supports DCB & our products are interoperable with CEE.As for the FCoE adoption, it will be a multi-phase journey. FC & FCoE will co-exist. The first step in this journey is the adoption at the data center access layer between CNA’s and Unified Fabric capable switch such as Nexus 5000. Nexus 5000 then separates the converged traffic to classical LAN & FC SAN networks.Majority of Unified Fabric benefits begin at the access layer. We have several companies who are already taking advantage of these savings. Nexus 5000 has 900+ customers (and growing) with 30% shipped with FCoE licenses. With 2nd generation CNA’s availability from Qlogic & Emulex — which provides much smaller form factors (same size as HBAs) & 1/3 the power of 1st gen CNAs, TIME IS NOW”" for Unified Fabric/FCoE at the “”access”". Also, lossless 10 GbE to server provides the capability to run standard Ethernet or IP-based storage protocols such as NAS & iSCSI etc (hence the term Unified Fabric) even if the organizations are not ready to go FCoE. Just by moving to 10GbE to server, companies can reduce 5-6 1GbE connections (driven by server virtualization among other apps) to one 10GbE connection, even if they don’t consolidate LAN & FC SAN with FCoE over lossless Ethernet. FCoE at access can further reduce connections to servers by consolidating LAN & SAN. So the cost savings in Unified Fabric comes from reduced cables, NICs/HBAs and switch ports. FCoE can also enhance server virtualization projects by ensuring greater mobility of virtual machines. Even in a virtual environment, there are still physical interfaces beneath the hardware that have to be provisioned properly. The simplified cabling schemes & uniform server adaptors(CNAs)provided by FCoE can enhance VM mobility. FCoE leverages the existing FC management infrastructure thus providing investment protection and ability for SAN folks to manage it as if they are managing FC SAN environment.Now, FCoE beyond the CNA< ->Unified Fabric/FCoE capable access switches into Core of data center ,aka multi-hop FCoE is next stage of the journey which will take some time but as the customers are ready overtime we will provide solutions to support that. Bottom line, companies don’t have to wait for the end-to-end FCoE or Unified Fabric. Unified Fabric provides the flexibility to run multiple LAN & Storage protocols in the data center. Cisco provides incremental approach to Unified Fabric network, reducing disruption for the organizations while helping ensure optimal benefit and investment protection.”

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  4. Unified Fabric will not thrive by itself alone, it needs collaboration with other data centre components, like server, storage, etc.However, such synergy (at my opinion, it’s the key determining factor) is NOT there yet for enterprise data centre to implement Unified Fabric / network / computing seriously.If you’ve seriously gone through ‘RFP-like’ process to select:1) Network Infrastructure2) VM Platform3) Storage and BackupThe first thought, wow, Unified fabric / network / computing is a perfect fit, isn’t it? well is it? until you drill down to nuts and bolts level, the lack of synergy would prevent you taking full advantage of Unified network.I am looking forward to see the gen2 to bring more collaboration and maturity.

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  5. Kash,I agree the time is now for unified fabrics at the access because their are tremendous benefits and little-or-no downside. However, to Leo’s point, buyers should understand the rue”" capabilities of their switches and CNAs. There are a lot of new converged networking vendors and products. Real capabilities are some times different than the “”it can do everyting”" claims stated or implied in press releases and marketing collateral — a scenario typical for first-generation technologies.- Frank”

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  6. Omar Sultan

    Frank/Leo:Well, from a Cisco perspective, the goal has always been to release a deployable solution, not just a point technology. When we initially released the Nexus 5000, we did it with a full ecosystem, so customers had a tested, validated CNA/switch solution and then we worked with VMware and the storage vendors to get the solution certified as part of their broader storage solutions. Looking ahead, we continue to partner in support of the broader adoption of FCoE. Is FCoE in its current form a viable wholesale replacement for existing FC infrastructure? No, but I also don’t see anyone advocating that. I think we are where we need to right now–with an effective, deployable access solution that delivers tangible benefits and ROI. FCoE will continue to mature to be a viable pan-data-center solution, but, as we have discussed before, on the SAN side of things, I don’t think adoption will be tied to technology availability as much as customer needs–in the SAN, when customers can do something faster/cheaper/better with FCoE than FC, they will move, and not before. And counter to a common misconception, we are perfectly happy to continue supporting customers on FC as long as they want.That being said, I think its incumbent on any customer to not just my word for it, but to kick the tired for themselves; although, I think customers are more likely to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed when they do so.Regards,Omar SultanCisco

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  7. Kash Shaikh

    Leo & Frank,While I strongly agree that a strong eco-system & synergy is required for Unified Fabric Solution, I would like to emphasize the main point that taking full advantage of Unified Fabric doesn’t necessarily mean an end-to-end FCoE or Unified Network.As for the eco-system of partners, we would not have made it work for hundreds of our production customers without the support and synergy of our partners. Now I don’t want to sound like a broken record here but it is important to understand the breakdown of Unified Fabric into multiple-phases and access is where the focus should be at this time.Nexus 5000 was the first Unified Fabric/FCoE capable switch in the market, however, it was introduced with broad eco-system of partners and we continue to work with partners and participate in industry events such UNH-IOL etc to meet the Unified Fabric solution needs of our customers.Cisco’s strong ecosystem of industry leaders provides customers with a unified fabric solution. including- Adapters: QLogic, Emulex, Intel, Broadcom, NetXen- Storage: NetApp, EMC, and 3Par- Servers: Dell, IBM- Virtualization: VMware- Facilities: APC, PanduitAs I mentioned, Cisco now has over 900 Nexus 5000 customers and has passed the 100,000 port milestone for 10bE. OK so now I would like to point out to some of the hard benefits our customers are realizing from such real life Unified Fabric “access” data center deployments such as 50% projected CapEX savings etc…1) University of Arizonahttp://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns340/ns517/ns224/case_study_c36-557668.html2) Coca Cola bottling companyhttp://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns340/ns517/ns224/case_study_c36-555689.html3) NetApphttp://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns340/ns517/ns224/case_study_c36-554435.html4) Zuse Institute Berlin (ZIB)http://www.cisco.com/en/US/solutions/collateral/ns340/ns517/ns224/case_study_konrad_zuse.pdfAnd the list goes on…

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  8. First off Egenera has been using Unified Fabric since 2000 in well over 1900 locations and has primarily used it in Mission Critical then in VM space. Some of the largest Oracle RAC cluster run on the Egenera product as well as many SAP and other high end systems.Even with the Dell PAN System, OEM’d from Egenera the several new customers they have had, have been using it for mission critical systems in utility/cloud computing, SAP, and large expansive management systems.It is all about architecture and how it is setup to work with the environment or project that it is being used for.

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  9. Kash Shaikh

    so without going into the debate of Prius vs Bronco etc, I’d like to share my views based on conversations I’ve had with numerous customers who have deployed this solution in production, our eco-system partners & some key industry analysts.First of all just to make sure we are referring to same things here, FCoE is a INCITS/ANSI standard & was ratified in June 2009. CEE is not a standard, it’s a generic term for a collection of Ethernet enhancements some of which are covered in IEEE 802.1 DCB. Cisco supports DCB & our products are interoperable with CEE.As for the FCoE adoption, it will be a multi-phase journey. FC & FCoE will co-exist. The first step in this journey is the adoption at the data center access layer between CNA’s and Unified Fabric capable switch such as Nexus 5000. Nexus 5000 then separates the converged traffic to classical LAN & FC SAN networks.Majority of Unified Fabric benefits begin at the access layer. We have several companies who are already taking advantage of these savings. Nexus 5000 has 900+ customers (and growing) with 30% shipped with FCoE licenses. With 2nd generation CNA’s availability from Qlogic & Emulex — which provides much smaller form factors (same size as HBAs) & 1/3 the power of 1st gen CNAs, TIME IS NOW”" for Unified Fabric/FCoE at the “”access”". Also, lossless 10 GbE to server provides the capability to run standard Ethernet or IP-based SAN protocols such as NAS & iSCSI etc (hence the term Unified Fabric) even if the organizations are not ready to go FCoE. Just by moving to 10GbE to server, companies can reduce 5-6 1GbE connections (driven by server virtualization among other apps) to one 10GbE connection, even if they don’t consolidate LAN & FC SAN with FCoE over lossless Ethernet. FCoE at access can further reduce connections to servers by consolidating LAN & FC SAN. So the cost savings in Unified Fabric comes from reduced cables, NICs/HBAs and switch ports. FCoE can also enhance server virtualization projects by ensuring greater mobility of virtual machines. Even in a virtual environment, there are still physical interfaces beneath the hardware that have to be provisioned properly. The simplified cabling schemes & uniform server adaptors(CNAs)provided by FCoE can enhance VM mobility. FCoE leverages the existing FC management infrastructure thus providing investment protection and ability for SAN folks to manage it as if they are managing FC SAN environment.Now, FCoE beyond the CNA< ->Unified Fabric/FCoE capable access switches into Core of data center ,aka multi-hop FCoE is next stage of the journey which will take some time but as the customers are ready overtime we will provide solutions to support that. Bottom line, companies don’t have to wait for the end-to-end FCoE or Unified Fabric. Unified Fabric provides the flexibility to run multiple LAN & SAN protocols in the data center. Cisco provides incremental approach to Unified Fabric network, reducing disruption for the organizations while helping ensure optimal benefit and investment protection.”

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