Spring has come again for the storage industry, bringing with it new options in both storage and server hardware itself and the networks that connect them together. The rise of SSD (solid state disk), rising connectivity speeds for Ethernet and Fibre Channel, and a new awareness of the importance of storage from a virtualization standpoint mean that storage is experiencing growth and change. For years, the stand-by for storage networking was Fibre Channel. Today, Fibre Channel (FC) is still the stand-by for storage networking, but there are more options. Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE), iSCSI, and the traditional file protocols of SMB and NFS are all viable enterprise-grade options to think about.
Its important to understand that despite sudden array of choices in the storage networking market, it is not necessary to simply pick a proverbial winner and run with it. Every business has its own business needs and I.T. design goals for the data center and the storage environment contained therein. Most large data centers today are primarily Fibre Channel environments, with a heavy investment in FC and FC-based storage arrays. The principles of consolidation and network simplification would state that these large data centers should be converting over to FCoE, based on the management, cable, and capital reductions. But the reality is far from that easy.
With a large investment in FC, companies simply cannot rip and replace the storage network and replace it with FCoE. Setting aside the huge disruption that would cause to operations, the waste of the existing investment in recently purchased FC equipment simply isn’t bearable. Then there are technical challenges, older equipment such as main frames that require FICON connectivity, and the testing process that has to happen when a new technology is introduced into a data center environment.
The solution, whether it is moving from FC to FCoE, augmenting FC with new equipment, or moving to iSCSI or a file protocol is carefully planned evolution. At Cisco we design our products with the idea of planned change at their heart. This is true of our storage networking products, the Cisco MDS and Cisco Nexus families. These products allow customers to choose the protocol and network they need to fulfill their needs, including their investment protection needs. In the case of our FC to FCoE example above, FCoE can be phased in with a combination of MDS and Nexus products while still allowing the FC network to run with the same level of reliability that customers expect.
Variety for storage networking is here to stay and application of one or more of these technologies can improve your data center by cutting down on costs and complexity. Keep them in mind as you plan for the future.