Despite being declared dead, Fibre Channel continues to evolve with FC-BB-6
Like many technologies that have been around for more than a decade or two, they often get declared dead when something new appears and Fibre Channel (FC) for networking with your servers and storage falls into that category. It seems like just yesterday when iSCSI was appearing on the storage networking scene in the early 2000s that FC was declared dead yet it remains and continues to evolve including moving over Ethernet with FC over Ethernet (FCoE).
Recently the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA) made an announcement on the continued development and enhancements including FC-BB-6 that applies to both "classic" or "legacy" FC as well as the newer and emerging FCoE implementations. FCIA is not alone in the FCIA activity as they are as the name implies the industry consortium that works with the T11 standards folks. T11 is a Technical Committee of the International Committee on Information Technology Standards (INCITS, pronounced "insights").
Keep in mind that a couple of pieces to Fibre Channel which are the upper levels and lower level transports.
With FCoE, the upper level portions get mapped natively on Ethernet without having to map on top of IP as happens with distance extension using FCIP.
Likewise FCoE is more than simply mapping one of the FC upper level protocols (ULPs) such as the SCSI command set (aka SCSI_FCP) on IP (e.g. iSCSI). Think of ULPs almost in a way as a guest that gets transported or carried across the network, however lets also be careful not to play the software defined network (SDN) or virtual network, network virtualization or IO virtualization (IOV) card, or at least yet, we will leave that up to some creative marketers ;).
At the heart of the Fibre Channel beyond the cable and encoding scheme are a set of protocols, command sets and one in particular is FC Backbone now in its 6th version (read more here at the T11 site, or here at the SNIA site).
Some of the highlights of the FCIA announcement include:
VN2VN connectivity support enabling direct point to point virtual links (not to be confused with point to point physical cabling) between nodes in an FCoE network simplifying configurations for smaller SAN networks where zoning might not be needed (e.g. remove complexity and cost).
Support for Domain ID scalability including more efficient use by FCoE fabrics enabling large scalability of converged SANs. Also keep an eye on the emerging T11 FC-SW-6 distributed switch architecture for implementation over Ethernet in final stages of development.
Here are my perspectives on this announcement by the FCIA:
"Fibre Channel is a proven protocol for networked data center storage that just got better," said Greg Schulz, founder StorageIO. "The FC-BB-6 standard helps to unlock the full potential of the Fibre Channel protocol that can be implemented on traditional Fibre Channel as well as via Ethernet based networks. This means FC-BB-6 enabled Fibre Channel protocol based networks give flexibility, scalability and secure high-performance resilient storage networks to be implemented."
However FCoE also continues to mature and evolve and in some ways, FC-BB-6 and its associated technologies and capabilities can be seen as the bridge between the past and the future. Thus while the role of both FC and FCoE along with other ways of of networking with your servers and storage continue to evolve, so to does the technology. Also keep in mind that not everything is the same in the data center or information factory which is why we have different types of server, storage and I/O networks to address different needs, requirements and preferences.
Additional reading and viewing on FC, FCoE and storage networking::
Ok, nuff said (for now)
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