Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Protocol Wars Continue.
Hey guys. My turn.

A lot of the Protocol Passionistas are arguing for all the wrong reasons, absolutely agreed. Some folks probably lump me in there, because I am resolutely against FCoE at this point in time. But not because I like having to run MTP and pinch my fingers in high density cassettes. And not because I hate Ethernet. Oh, and also not because I'm against FCoE either.

The problem I have with FCoE, is the problem I had with NDMP, with iSCSI, with NFS, with any number of protocols. People like to jump the gun and don't pay enough attention to best practices or the limitations of the protocol. FCoE has great potential for good, but far more potential for bad. Think about it for a minute. Can you honestly say you have never seen a poorly configured SAN or Ethernet switch, not once in your entire career? If you said no, you probably haven't been looking. I actively seek those problems, to solve them before they become real problems.

Now let's apply this to converged networking, where we now have FC (disk and tape,) iSCSI (slower disk,) and Ethernet (networking and NAS,) all carried on the same fiber through the same adapter. The Reliable Ethernet part of the stack was only very recently declared tech stable, and is without question the most critical element for FCoE. Buying into things before you know you won't have to forklift for the final standard, not wise. It's important to point out that none of the protocols involved are spring chickens. Even iSCSI is years old. And compared to it's age, real stability is very recent.
And now, we're shifting all of these onto a single converged point. What this means for business is the Elephant in the Room that nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, wants to admit to. Networking failures and problems, just became everything problems. This isn't a Protocol Passionista point - it's a point period. And a very good and valid one. Lumping all your eggs into one basket, even with redundancy, can be very dangerous. Remember what I said about configuration problems before?

Jumping into the new challenge of converged networking, without meeting the challenge of current networking is such a bad idea, I can't recommend it. And it's still relatively young, giving me additional pause. There is tremendous risk of making mistakes, and mistakes cost real money. Especially when a failed Ethernet port now means failed disk as well.

No question, converged is the future. Like it or not though, the reason isn't what people want it to be. It's not because it's technically superior, it's not because the old division of protocols is a bad idea.
Converged is the future because it's cheaper.
Yes, that's really what's going to drive adoption. The folks controlling budgets saying "why do you need two $1200 HBAs and two $400 multiport GigE cards when the salesman says we can do it with a single $1100 converged adapter?" Ask any budget decision maker - will they take a proven reliable method when there's something significantly cheaper that's 'good enough'?

And once again, it will fall to us to turn 'good enough' into "we can't ever be down unexpectedly ever."

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