Here’s something that just about every IT person in the world knows. The health, well-being, and future growth of the company they work for depends on them. Big time. But they’re not the only ones that are in the know about this. Bigwig corporate decision makers are aware of this as well, which explains the reason why many companies are starting to seriously ramp up IT spending while slashing expenses in other areas. One goal that’s widely recognized as something that will play a big part in the ability of companies to sharpen their competitive edge is data center network consolidation.

Simplification Through Network Convergence
The internal architecture of most data network centers is a uniquely schizophrenic one, with a variety of technologies that often require vastly different networks and skill sets to operate them. In this sort of environment, the notion of paring down such a wild mix ‘n match array of mainframes and storage systems becomes impossible without looking at network convergence as the obvious answer. Two of the most predominant protocols used in data centers, Fibre Channel and Ethernet, are incompatible without the intervention of FCoE (Fibre Channel Over Internet). In simple terms, FCoE offers a technological merging of the best of both worlds and opens the door for significant advancements toward the goal of consolidating a complex data network.

FCoE – The Primary Element of Successful Network Convergence
FCoE is a platform on which the two uniquely different technologies of Fibre Channel and Ethernet are capable of working together. The end result of this coexistence is the union of Ethernet’s lossless data transfer capabilities and Fibre Channel’s superior ability to transfer gigabits of data at super high speeds.

There are a couple of different options from which IT departments have to choose once the decision to go the FCoE route has been decided. These two options are: software initiators and offload engines (converged network adapters). At face value, the biggest difference between the two is cost. Software initiators, which operate through existing NICs, essentially allow an IT department to take the path of least financial resistance – whereas converged network adapters are far more expensive and require a significantly higher capital investment. Needless to say, cost should never be the only determining factor, especially when it comes to network convergence decisions that can impact a company’s ability to remain competitive. But there are reasons beyond cost that make investing in a converged network adapter a sound decision for IT departments.

One of the most significant brings into focus the issue of CPU usage and performance. A converged network adapter has built-in processors that offload from a CPU instead of putting it through the paces and overburdening it to achieve the horsepower needed to facilitate the bandwidth for optimum performance. Software initiators, on the other hand, can have a huge adverse impact on operational efficiency and can result in unreliable data delivery, a decreased ability to recover lost data frames, and bottlenecks, because it requires everything to be routed through the server’s PCI bus.

The Future of Ethernet and Coming Speed Enhancements
If this information isn’t enough to convince you that opting for a converged network adapter as the primary solution for your data center consolidation is the only route that’ll deliver truly effective performance, then maybe taking a look down the road at what the near future holds for Ethernet speeds will.

When compared to standard Fibre Channel speeds, FCoE is already holding strong with a slight lead. Right now, a 10Gb FCoE CNA is capable of operating at transfer speeds just 2Gbps faster than standard Fibre Channel, which top out at 8Gbps. In relative terms, this gives us the equivalent of a dead heat, with FCoE crossing the finish line a hair ahead of standard Fibre Channel speeds.

But the next generation of those competing technologies isn’t going to be quite so close. In fact, there’s not going to be any competition at all. Although standard FC is set to double speed by ramping up to 16Gbps, Fibre Channel Over Ethernet is poised to blow it away by making a quantum leap from 10 Gigabit FCoE to 100Gbps.

Pairing Up Converged Network Adapters with the Best Available Storage System
All things considered, it’s prudent to heed the words of the old saying that reminds us that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. If you’re going to be using a converged network adapter as the primary thrust behind your network convergence aims, it only makes sense to use certain data storage systems that will work best with that technology. Here’s a list of some of the storage systems currently available on the market, which can be used by IT departments to make the most of their network consolidation efforts.

  • EMC VNX5300
  • EMC VNX5500
  • EMC VNX 5700
  • NetApp FAS2040
  • NetApp FAS3200 (entire series)
  • NetApp FAS6200 (entire series)

Converged network adapters may bear a high sticker price, but their overall value with regard to making network convergence possible is an awful lot higher. That value is something that will play a critical role in allowing companies to achieve previously unrealized levels of efficiency.