Five tips on moving to Fibre Channel over Ethernet

Best Practices

Five tips on moving to Fibre Channel over Ethernet

Large IT shops that adopt Fibre Channel over Ethernet even in only portions of their networks often find the management challenges to be greater than the technical hurdles because their networking and storage teams aren't accustomed to working together.

"Those who know storage rarely know data networking. Those who know data networking rarely understand or know storage networking," said Marc Staimer, president at Dragon Slayer Consulting in Beaverton, Ore. "It's not intuitive to either group."

Below is a list of five tips and recommendations for those who venture down the FCoE and enhanced Ethernet path:

Tip 1: Adopt Fibre Channel over Ethernet in phases; start with a pilot project.

Consultants and industry analysts generally advise IT shops to implement FCoE at the access layer, between the servers and switches, for server I/O consolidation. And they don't offer that guidance merely because the multipathing and multi-hop switch capabilities aren't ready for prime time.

"It makes management simpler," said Joe Skorupa, a research vice president at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. "It reduces the politics, although it certainly doesn't eliminate them. It preserves the investment in the existing Fibre Channel network."

In a typical FCoE scenario, a Fibre Channel (FC) user is able to reduce the cabling and adapter cards and lower port consumption at the access layer. The FCoE-enabled switches split the LAN and SAN traffic, which goes to traditional FC core switches and FC-based storage.

Starting with a pilot project gives the IT team a chance to demonstrate success and to work on addressing potential friction between the LAN and SAN teams.

Tip 2: Promote organizational change, if necessary, to promote collaboration between the SAN and LAN/WAN teams.

At the University of Arizona, the SAN and LAN/WAN teams both report to Derek Masseth, senior director of frontline and infrastructure services. But Masseth can recall a time not so long ago when the Tucson-based school's storage and network teams reported to different directors and, in turn, to the CIO.

"Frequently, those two directors didn't get along. They just didn't see eye to eye," he said. "That's pretty common in IT. Those are two areas of an IT organization that frequently compete for a common set of resources."

When the storage team made the case for Fibre Channel over Ethernet to him, Masseth said the fact that the LAN team also reported to him not only made it easier for him to make the FCoE decision but also to recognize the organizational impact and confront it directly.

"Organizationally, there needs to be alignment," advised Stuart Miniman, principal research contributor at the Wikibon Project. "It needs to become less of a turf war and more of, eventually, some convergence."

Tip 3: Take the personal initiative to learn about FCoE and Data Center Bridging.

Within IT shops rebuilding their data centers, data storage administrators should get involved in planning sessions, help develop the evaluation criteria and make sure their favored vendors receive invitations to bid on the whole project, not just a single piece, Gartner's Skorupa advised.

"I would make myself part of the process rather than simply digging in my heels and saying 'I'm not going to let it happen,'" Skorupa said. "I would want to be perceived as knowledgeable, proactive and a team player, rather than disruptive, negative and backward-looking."

Tip 4: Facilitate cross-training, information sharing and joint planning between the storage and network teams.

Dennis Martin, president at Demartek LLC, an Arvada, Colo.-based analyst firm that operates its own test lab, advises the storage team to do some networking work and the networking staff to do some storage work so they get a better understanding of each other's requirements.

Staimer said the level of cross-training may depend on the culture of the organization. "If the organization believes that you need specialists, then you don't cross-train. If the organization believes you should have lots of generalists who can multitask and fill in for each other, then you should," he said.

"Change is disruptive, and change is threatening," Gartner's Skorupa said. "The guys on the server and storage side look over and see what happened when Cisco entered the voice world. All of the guys that used to have good jobs maintaining the voice system either got fired or wound up working for the Cisco networking guys, so [they] essentially got functionally demoted.

"It will be a long, slow process of building trust," he added. "This is where having people skills and management skills is more important than having technical skills. Either team can learn the other one's technology."

Tip 5: Seek out management tools that provide visibility across FCoE switches and FC and Ethernet environments.

Many of the prominent storage resource management and monitoring tools don't yet support the new FCoE switches, so early adopters may need to look elsewhere for troubleshooting assistance.

Cisco Systems Inc. enhanced its Fabric Manager to manage FCoE devices the same way it manages FC and iSCSI devices, according to Bob Nusbaum, a product line manager. "For a SAN administrator using Fabric Manager, there's no difference in how they zone servers with Fibre Channel [host bus adapters] vs. how they zone servers with Unified Fabric [converged network adapters]," he noted via e-mail.

Brocade Communications Systems Inc.'s Data Center Fabric Manager (Brocade DCFM) offers role-based capabilities that let storage administrators manage the storage resources and network administrators focus on the LAN/WAN resources.

But one early FCoE adopter, Houston-based Kelsey-Seybold Clinic, claims the role-based capabilities aren't complete yet.

"They have the role-based capability within their GUI and we do use that, but if you go to a command line, your roles are blurred," said Martin Littmann, director of IT systems at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.

In November, Brocade plans to release a unified network management tool, called the Brocade Network Advisor, for use across SANs, IP networks, Fibre Channel over Ethernet networks, wireless networks and Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS) networks. The tool includes role-based access control capabilities. Brocade claims the upgrade path for Brocade DCFM customers will be seamless.

This was first published in October 2010