Back in ’96, when I was flogging FC networks for Sun under NDA, the most common objection was “I don’t want another layer to manage.” Despite that FC became successful in big enterprise IT shops. But the objection is still valid and a major factor, with price, in the low uptake of FC in smaller shops.

Is FCoE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) the answer?

FC vendors are – reluctantly – hoping it is
The future of pure FC looks pretty bleak in the long term. 10 GigE is coming down the cost curve just as earlier generations of Ethernet did. The volume Force is with them.

As 10 GigE gets cheaper its total available market gets larger. It may not be optimal, but for many shops “good enough” is good enough.

FC partisans aren’t quitting. 8 Gbit has just started shipping, 16 Gbit is on the drawing boards and there are noises about future generations beyond that.

FCoE follows in the footsteps of VTLs
When 1 Gbit FC started rolling out in ’97, it was 10x-20x the speed of the then hot 100 Mbit Ethernet in either its full or half duplex flavors. And today – 8 Gbit FC is slower than 10 GigE. It is cheaper, but for how long?

An Emulex VP explained at a recent conference that enterprise shops have well-developed processes for managing FC SANs. FCoE enables shops to continue using those processes minus the fibre. The problem: FCoE won’t be ready for volume deployment until 2010 – if you believe the current schedules.

Any technical problems could easily drop FCoE into 2011, leaving Emulex, Qlogic and Brocade with a 3+ year chasm to cross. The Emulex VP tried to sound enthusiastic about FCoE but wasn’t succeeding. Maybe his teeth hurt.

The StorageMojo take
Enterprise data center inertia is a powerful market driver. Witness the success of VTLs. It’s understandable: they have work to do. Can’t be overhauling the engines in mid-flight.

But Wall Street isn’t as understanding as StorageMojo. FC is topping out, so where is the growth going to come from for FC companies? Especially when new iSCSI, Infiniband and pNFS products are coming to market in the near term.

The current economic malaise will force companies to get tough on data center requirements. The “good enough” standard will be the only standard for apps that aren’t absolutely core to business success.

Comments welcome, of course.