Unified Fabric and FCoE

I still remember the first Data Center where I worked almost 10 years ago. There were mainly three racks. One for switches, routers, load balancers and firewalls, another for servers and the third one for the Storage Area Network (SAN). This last rack had an storage array and a tape library along with storage switches. I had to know about networking, security, systems and storage. That years were amazing because I had just finished my degree in IT engineer at University and I learnt a lot in that Data Center. Thanks, of course, to my workmates.

Why I’ve highlighted the third rack? Because IT trends are changing. I’m not going to write about virtual servers because it’s already here but I’m going to write about converged infrastructures. Most IT engineers know about Hyper Converged Infrastructures (HCI), others don’t know anything yet. The aim of HCI is to include servers, storage and networking all together. This can be achieved thanks to software-defined IT infrastructures. Therefore, the third rack, which I administered as a storage engineer, no longer makes sense because storage is going to be into the virtual infrastructure as a virtual SAN (vSAN).

Enterprise NAS file services for VMware vSAN

HCI solutions such as VMware vSAN, HPE SimpliVity or Nutanix are increasingly known. They are getting market bit by bit. However, there are also companies who don’t want to install HCI technology yet but they first want to converge storage to FCoE switches. This is an advantage because we can throw away the storage switches and converge to network switches, such as Cisco Nexus, for networking and storage. Thus, one kind of switch for everything. Less cables, less complexity, better efficiency, cost saving, operation simplicity, etc. Lots of advantages.

Unified Fabric and FCoE
As network engineers, we are used to reading IPoE, PPPoE or PoE. Three technologies which are over Ethernet. FCoE is similar than that. This is a technology that encapsulates Fibre Channel frames over Ethernet networks. It’s useful in high speed networks like 10 GbE networks where we can have a SAN with Ethernet switches instead of dedicated storage switches. Therefore, as network engineers, it’s time to learn about storage, or storage engineers will have to learn about networking.

FCoE - Frame Structure
These days I’m learning about storage, though, I’m still remember about zoning, HBAs, WWNN, etc. For instance, what I didn’t know is NPIV and NPV which are two new technologies for me. These Fibre Channel features are useful for virtualized infrastructures and large SAN deployments. The first one, NPIV or N-Port ID Virtualization, is interesting to attach LUNs to virtual machines while the second one, NPV or N-Port Virtualizer, is able to aggregate the locally connected host ports into one or more uplinks to the core switches.

N-Port Identifier Virtualization (NPIV)
It seems IT engineers will have to converge too. Network engineers will have to learn about storage for installing and configuring FCoE switches and/or systems engineers will have to learn about storage and networking too for Hyper Converged Infrastructure (HCI). We’ll see, meanwhile, keep studying my friends!!