EMC adopts Cisco Fibre Channel over Ethernet switch

The standards for Fibre Channel over Ethernet haven’t been ratified yet, but EMC Corp. is confident enough of its future that it is rebranding a Cisco Systems’ FCoE switch with its name.

The EMC version is called the Connectrix NEX-5020, the first to be offered by the storage provider. Deirdre Wassel, EMC’s director of storage networking marketing, said the company is making the move “because we believe the FCoE is an evolutionary technology that will help customers reduce the cost of power and cooling in the data centre, and it provides a way for us to reach connected storage for (EMC-owned) VMware” systems.

The Connectrix line also OEMs other switches from Cisco and Brocade. As a result, Wassel said, EMC can offer customers servers, switches and storage.

Fibre Channel is used to connect servers to storage area networks. Using it over Ethernet is a way that leverages 10Gigabit Ethernet speeds, thus helping cut costs. It’s supported by a wide range of manufacturers including Broadcom, Brocade, Emulex, Finisar, HP, IBM, Intel, Hitachi Data Systems, NetApp, Nuova, Qlogic and Sun Microsystems.

The U.S. $86,000 NEX-5020 – based on the Cisco Nexus 5020 – comes with 40 ports of 10Gb Ethernet, plus two slots for optional Cisco modules. So far they are either a four-port 10GbEthernet blade with four Fibre Channel ports, or a six-port 10GbE blade.

To go along with the NEX-5020 EMC is carrying converged network adapters from Emulex and QLogic. These are I/O adapters that combine an Ethernet network interface card and a Fibre Channel host bus adapter.

Network managers who will be interested in FCoE are reaching the power and cooling limits in their data centres, Wassel said, as well as those who want to cut down on the number of network adapters connecting different systems in their storage area networks. However, she acknowledged that organizations are still cautiously adopting the technology in part because FCoE standard hasn’t been finalized by the T11 committee of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) also has to put its stamp of approval on an enhanced Ethernet standard.

“Storage customers are typically conservative,” Wassel said, so until the standards are finalized – next year, she hopes – they will likely put FCoE into test environments. She hopes there will be greater interest in adoption in the second half of 2009 and early 2010. Few will rip out their existing infrastructures and replace with Fibre Channel over Ethernet, she added. Rather, it will be gradually added as organizations expand their data centres or build new ones.

As Cisco adds models to the Nexus line EMC will also re-brand them, she said.

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