Essential guide to datacentre convergence

By Martin Courtney
24 Jan 2012 View Comments
Man in a datacentre

Brocade UK manager Simon Pamplin agrees. “We provide a single pane of glass management tool through to the Ethernet network and the SAN, with plug-ins and APIs, which connect to other umbrella management tools that the organisation may already have,” he says.

Further reading

“One of the biggest headaches is moving a virtual instance from one physical device to another physical device, because if you do not get the ACL [access control list] right on the receiving port, the migration fails and you have to start the whole process over again. What this does is automate what was previously a manual process.”

Convergence for reluctant buyers

Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) and datacentre convergence would look like a marginal technology struggling to make its mark on a largely disinterested audience if the success – or otherwise – of any one technology could be measured simply by examining current real-world usage within customer deployments.

None of the vendors to which Computing spoke was able to put forward a reference customer willing to speak about their FCoE deployment. However, Cisco claims thousands have installed its Unified Computing System (UCS) converged datacentre platform, and rival vendors insist many firms have taken the first steps by purchasing top-of-rack Ethernet switches that can be added or reconfigured to support FCoE at a later date.

This slow-burn adoption mirrors analyst forecasts. In its bi-annual SAN five-year forecast report, networking market research firm Dell’Oro Group predicted 2011 would be the year when revenue from FCoE storage equipment would outgrow that from FC for the first time. But the underlying figures show how healthy the market for FC still is, and how small FCoE remains by comparison: FCoE will grow by $300m (£194m) – from $274m in 2010 to $583m in 2011 for FCoE, versus growth of $180m from $2.68bn in 2010 to $2.86bn in 2011 for FC.

“IDC forecasts do not see tectonic changes in terms of shipments or revenue for FCoE components, but more steady growth from a very low starting point,” confirms Emir Halilovic, program manager for network and infrastructure at research firm IDC.

Having been first to market with its FCoE-based UCS in 2008, it can come as no surprise that Cisco is leading the way when it comes to shipments. An official blog written by Cisco’s Soni Jiandani in May 2011 claimed it had 5,400 customers and an annual sales run rate of $900m for product orders at that time.

In 2010, Loughborough University adopted Logicalis’ Cooperative Cloud platform as the basis for a JANET-connected hosted cloud service that it plans to deliver to its own staff and other universities. The architecture will be based on a mixture of Cisco UCS and Catalyst switches.

Loughborough University IT director Phil Richards describes the cloud service as “a key milestone in validating our decision not to spend money regenerating our old datacentre”, saying UCS formed the basis of a new-build project.

Meanwhile, five customers have Juniper’s QFabric in beta test, the company told analysts in September. Canadian telco Bell Canada was the first to go on record saying it intends to deploy Juniper Networks’ QFabric single-tier datacentre architecture as the basis for the hosted cloud services it will be delivering to its corporate customers.

Gradual implementation

There are no details as to how many servers, storage arrays or network nodes Juniper’s QFabric will connect, what it replaces (if anything, the release hints at a new-build rather than rip-and-replace project), how much network capacity it will provide, or even when it will be installed.

Bell Canada has said only that it will “unify the server, storage, appliance and network elements of its new hosting environment” and that it chose Juniper over rival networking vendors because QFabric “demonstrated low latency and the ability to scale gradually over time without disruption to daily business operations”. Read through the lines and this is precisely the sort of gradual implementation that appears to be the only way in which vendors can actually sell FCoE platforms.

“Whether customers are implementing it now or building it in for the future is up for discussion. Some people are trialling it but others are saying they are not adopting it because they already have very large FC implementations,” claims Trevor Dearing, Juniper head of enterprise marketing.

UK telco Cable & Wireless is using Cisco UCS as the foundation for its cloud service hosting platform as part of its next-generation network (NGN). However, it is unclear if the infrastructure is being put into existing or new facilities.

While Brocade is unable to name any reference customers of the technology, the company’s UK and Ireland systems engineering manager, Simon Pamplin, remains adamant that many have signed up – if only purchasing the top-of-rack component in anticipation of a later migration to a fully converged network.

“We have had take-up from media companies to those running HPC, higher education and financial trading companies as they prepare to move over. They are looking ahead for future proofing,” he says.

HP tells much the same story. “Our customers are not ready for adoption now, but we want to be ready when LAN/SAN convergence and FCoE becomes widely adopted,” adds Eugene Berger, solution architect for HP UK & Ireland.

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