CNBC hopes to fly Fibre Channel on its Ethernet superhighway

DALLAS – Steve Fastook, vice-president of technical and commercial operations at CNBC Inc., could soon have his proverbial back up against a wall as his raised floor has reached its cabling limit. So he’s hoping a new technology will allow him to utilize his existing LAN to serve up high-definition video from several large Fibre Channel SANs to more than 200 editing stations.

“Our data center is about 600 racks. Our computer floor is full between the broadcast cabling and data cabling, which is merged now. So anything I can do that leverages the cabling infrastructure is huge for us,” Fastook said. “A [rip and] replace would literally be catastrophic for us.”

Fastook said the Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) protocol, a technology demonstrated in Dallas Wednesday at Storage Networking World, would foot the bill in combining his large SANs with his extensive Ethernet LAN.

The demonstration of the industry’s first converged FCoE network here combined technologies from QLogic Corp., Network Appliance Inc. and Cisco subsidiary Nuova Systems Inc. The technology demonstration utilized QLogic’s so-called converged network adapters, FCoE chip technology from Nuova Systems and storage from Network Appliance.

“FCoE requires the use of a new class of converged network adapters that appear to the operating system like a Fibre Channel HBA and an Ethernet NIC consolidated into a single adapter,” said Jeff Benck, QLogic’s president and chief operating officer. The network adapters perform a mapping function that takes the Fibre Channel frames and encapsulates them inside Ethernet packets to be sent out over a LAN.

The FCoE proposed standard has been submitted to the T11 Committee of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). The FCoE standard directly maps the Fibre Channel protocol over Ethernet, bypassing the TCP/IP stack, and enables SAN traffic to be natively transported over standard LAN networks while allowing companies to continue using their existing Fibre Channel infrastructures. (See: “”New Fibre Channel over Ethernet standard proposed”).

“With 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet on the horizon, you see performance starting to drive convergence,” said Benck. “We see the need for [server] reliability and consolidation. What’s that done is driven the need for speed from a storage networking perspective.”

Benck predicted that within a few “short years” 10 per cent of SAN ports will be utilizing FCoE. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.-based CNBC may be among the first. Currently, the cable and satellite television business news network uses a 45TB SAN from Thompson Grass Valley to store high-resolution video footage. The SAN fills to capacity every five days and the video must be replicated to a 125TB EMC near-line storage array, where it remains another five days before being backed up to a tape library from ADIC Corp. CNBC maintains a separate 25TB EMC SAN that is connected to the Grass Valley SAN and serves up low-resolution video to more than 200 editing stations.

CNBC also has an 18TB Apple Xsan array that replicates its data to a duplicate 18TB SAN for backup. Rich Tallmadge, a graphics engineer at CNBC, said he would also like to see his Fibre Channel-attached Xsans eventually moved to FCoE to simplify his infrastructure and serve up graphical art to 18 editor stations.

“We all access the same data. What we’re saying is we have a trifecta of digital data and video production systems that we utilize for data, video and graphics,” said Gary Kanofsky, director of digital production and broadcast technology at CNBC.

Fastook said he can wait the two or three years for FCoE to reach maturity while he upgrades his video feeds to high definition, at which point he’d then like to take advantage of “at least” 10Gbit/sec. Ethernet to stream it from his SANs.

“Once I get to the point where I’m producing real HD content, I have to address this,” Fastook said.

For Fastook, not only would FCoE make use of his existing network, but it would save him money that he would otherwise have to pay additional Fibre Channel switches, host bus adapters and expensive Fibre Channel administrators.

Benck said the convergence of FCoE and traditional Fibre Channel networking will create this hybrid environment featuring simultaneous SAN/LAN connectivity and functionality under one hood.

“This means [fewer] cables, less complexity in the environment, and that is not unlike the other trends we saw go on with consolidation. Does this mean overnight we won’t have SAN administrators and no LAN administrators, and [instead now just] one team? And CIOs are excited about laying off half of IT staff? No. We don’t believe that,” he said.

What Benck does believe is that there will be two teams to leverage a common technology with the benefit of using the same Ethernet wire.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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