EMC blesses Emulex FCoE adapters

EMC said Monday it will support a line of Emulex network adapters that use Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCOE), giving a big-name boost to an emerging technology that could become the common transport across an entire data center.

The Emulex LightPulse LP21000 family of converged network adapters (CNAs) are certified for use in SANs (storage area networks) with EMC's Connectrix NEX-5020 FCoE switch and Clariion, Celerra and Symmetrix networked storage systems. The CNAs function as both a storage adapter and a LAN adapter for servers.

EMC has tested the CNAs under its E-Lab program and, starting in the next few weeks, will provide support for them, said Joe Jervis, senior director of product marketing at Emulex.

FCoE combines elements of Fibre Channel, the major storage network technology of the past 10 years, with Ethernet. The new standard, being developed by INCITS (the InterNational Committee for Information Technology Standards), won't be formally completed until next year but is beyond the addition of any major changes, Jervis said.

The LP21000 family, announced in April, offers 10G bps performance and was designed in collaboration with Cisco to ensure interoperability with the networking giant's Nexus 5000 data-center switch. By combining several kinds of connectivity on one component, the converged network adapters reduce the number of adapters and cables required in each server, cutting space and power requirements in the process, Jervis said.

FCoE should allow enterprises to move away from having their servers connected to storage via one type of network and to the LAN by another. Some large data centers also have Infiniband to tie together clusters. FCoE can take the place of all three, reducing the need for specialized staff, said analyst Bob Laliberte of Enterprise Strategy Group.

Certifications like EMC's are a critical step forward for FCoE, because they will help to give enterprises confidence that the products will work with equipment already in place. EMC's seems to be the first certification of FCoE gear by any major storage vendor, Laliberte said, but he expects many more to follow before the end of this year.

"It's just another important step in the process to get FCoE into enterprises and getting it tested and deployed for future production use," Laliberte said. Storage administrators are typically conservative, and most new FCoE users will spend next year in testing before rolling out FCoE on their live networks, he said.

Analyst Steve Schuchart, of Current Analysis, thinks FCoE is just a transitional technology on the way to rearchitected data centers that use Ethernet throughout. It's necessary to network the storage gear enterprises already have, but Ethernet will eventually replace Fibre Channel completely because it's getting both faster and cheaper. "That's a dagger to the heart," Schuchart said.

Still, "it's not like Fibre Channel is just going to dry up and blow away," he added, saying the typical replacement cycle for data-center network equipment is five years. Certification by major storage vendors is a big step to get it going because they largely call the shots.

"If I was going to build a storage network, and I'm all EMC, I won't buy anything EMC doesn't bless," Schuchart said.

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