Open FCoE Goes Virtual

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At the beginning of 2011, Intel launched a new effort to expand adoption of Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE). The Open FCoE effort has been active ever since and has expanded into usage for virtualization.

Open FCoE is part of the recent VMware vSphere 5.0 release providing virtualization users with Fibre Channel connectivity options.

“From our perspective, this is a pretty major step forward on what is perhaps the last critical piece of the FCoE puzzle,” Sunil Ahluwalia, Senior Product Line Manager, LAN Access Division at Intel, told

Ahluwalia noted that whole strategy for Open FCoE since its launch in January of this year has been about optimizing the whole system to work with FCoE. As such, there are Open FCoE code pieces available for operating system kernels as well as all of the various virtualization hypervisors. Ahluwalia added that there is data plane offload on the Intel FCoE adapter card to provide even better performance.

“With the VMware integration, there are certain optimizations in the VMware kernel, and the hardware offload in the network interface card provides the best performance,” Ahluwalia said. “Open FCoE is available in the VMware solution and there is no additional charge for it.”

VMware isn’t the only vendor that Intel has been working on for Open FCoE integration. EMC is also on Intel’s list of vendors that it is working with towards certification of the solution.

While Open FCoE is being integrated into virtualization software, the solution benefits most with network interface cards (NICs) that are optimized for the technology.

“We want to make sure that the control plane is done in the kernel, because that’s the best place to do it,” Ahluwali said. “You accelerate data from a data plane perspective, when you send data in and out of the pipe, using the hardware accelerated NICs.”

That said, he added that potentially enterprises could use a straight NIC without hardware acceleration, but users will not see the same level of performance.

Hardware and software issues aside, FCoE is still in its early days of adoption.

“From a volume perspective, the challenge is that FCoE is pretty much in its infancy,” Ahluwali said.

Ahluwali noted that increasing adoption is all about making FCoE easier to deploy which is where Open FCoE comes into play.

“Overall I still feel that storage market is moving slowly toward this new technology,” Ahluwali said. “The standards are all ratified and we’ve come out with a compelling low-cost solution and we expect that adoption will accelerate faster now.”

From a technology perspective, Ahluwali does not see any particular challenges for FCoE adoption. At this point, the challenges involve the internal silos within data centers and enterprises around seperate LAN and SAN operations teams. Larger networking hardware infrastructure items are also a challenge as well.

“There are still challenges around switching, upgrading to 10 GbE and switches that support FCoE,” Ahluwali said. “From an implementation perspective, our product has been through the ringer, and it’s very well validated with respect to targets and products.”

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

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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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