Intel Opens Up FCoE, Offers Free Upgrades

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Intel is ramping up its effort to expand Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). The company today announced that its Open FCoE technology is being supported by a variety of vendors, including Cisco, EMC, NetApp, Red Hat and Oracle.

“Our approach is a bit different than other approaches. We’re running all the Fibre Channel protocols on the host, instead of running them on proprietary hardware down on the HBA,” said Tom Swinford, vice president and general manager in Intel’s LAN Access Division, at a press conference today.

Swinford added that Intel does have some acceleration with FCoE data path offloads to take advantage of offload performance. In general though, he stressed that most of the stack is running on the host.

The goal is to have one adapter for multiple types of traffic.

“As we continue to make stronger and more powerful processors, our performance will only get better,” Swinford said. “This allows us to take our standard adapter, and hook it up to file-based storage on a NAS or iSCSI box or to Fibre Channel over Ethernet.”

Swinford noted that Intel wants every server that ships with an Intel adapter or with LAN on motherboard (LOM) to be able to support FCoE.

At the core of the Open FCoE effort is the Data Center Bridging (DCB) specification. Swinford noted that DCB is part of the Linux 2.6.29 kernel and subsequent Linux kernels. According to Intel, there are no special hooks in the kernel for Open FCoE to work with Intel X520 adapters, but Intel adapters are the first ones qualified by EMC and NetApp with the Open FCoE solution.

Steve Schultz, director of product marketing in Intel’s LAN Access Division, told that Open FCoE is open source under the GPL license. He noted that Open FCoE is based on what is available in the Linux kernel.

“What is new today is that Open FCoE is now available from the Linux distributors, and it has been qualified along with the Intel X520 Server adapters with EMC and Cisco,” Schultz said.

While Intel is best known as a silicon vendor, Open FCoE is a free software upgrade. Schultz explained that Intel’s 82599 controller has Data Path Offload technology to help accelerate FCoE. The 82599 and X520 started shipping in the middle of 2009, and all of these adapters and servers can now be upgraded to Open FCoE with no additional silicon required.

The Open FCoE effort is being endorsed by a variety of Intel’s partners, including EMC and Cisco. From Cisco’s perspective, the effort will help the company drive forward its unified computing initiatives and Unified Computing System (UCS).

Soni Jiandani, a vice president in Cisco’s server access and virtualization group, said during the press conference that Open FCoE will enable all Ethernet customers to also support FCoE.

“It brings forth the notion of wire once, and mount any type of storage on your compute infrastructure,” Jiandani said. “That’s the net benefit that this technology will now enable across the broader base of Ethernet-enabled customers.”

Cisco had been providing its UCS customers with converged fabric prior to the Intel Open FCoE announcement. Jiandani noted that what’s different is that Open FCoE offers more choice and it broadens the base of customers that can enable their existing Ethernet infrastructure with FCoE.

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at Internet News, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Sean Michael Kerner
Sean Michael Kerner
Sean Michael Kerner is an Internet consultant, strategist, and contributor to several leading IT business web sites.

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