Ethernet will never completely replace Fibre Channel, they said – and they were right. Fibre Channel will always be faster, they said – and they were wrong. In fact, what they were wrong about was whether or not a war even existed. Maybe there was a time when Brocade ruled Fibre Channel (and didn’t do Ethernet) and Cisco ruled Ethernet (and didn’t do Fibre Channel). But once Cisco got into the Fibre Channel business and started selling arms to both sides of the war, many predicted it was the beginning of the end for Brocade. While that point is debatable, there is no doubt the pressure is on.
Gone are the days when one must decide between Ethernet and Fibre Channel (FC). Multi-protocol switches and ports take care of that. It is unclear why anyone would buy a switch that only supports Ethernet or FC because the future is simply unclear. Buying a switch – even an edge switch – that only supports a single protocol would seem like painting yourself into a corner. Make today’s protocol decision based on what you typically use in your data center, but connect it to a system that can change its mind as fast as your CIO changes theirs. “Future proofing” is the smart move.
A key to future proofing is to make sure the switching product has enough potential density to scale your data center into the future, also known as port density. Another is to make sure that there is enough scalable bandwidth to manage the potential load that a highly dense virtual infrastructure with an all-flash storage back end requires both now and into the future. While 16Gbs FC and especially 32Gbs FC seems like more than enough today, it may not be in the future. Particularly vulnerable are inter-switch links (ISLs), the ports that inter-connect directors to other directors or to other switches.
Cisco’s recent announcements are designed to meet these requirements in two ways. The first is the MDS 9718, a director with the highest port density in the industry – 768 ports in a single chassis. That many ports in a single chassis means you can connect far more hosts or edge switches into your core without wasting money on ISL links. Cisco claims to cite plenty of use cases that involve consolidating several of their competitors’ directors into a single MDS 9718 chassis. Fewer chassis means less wasted power, fewer things to manage, and fewer ISL links. They also announced that this is the first switch to allow you to program it using a native REST API – big news to DevOps and cloud environments.
Another unique capability is a 40 GbE FCoE interconnect link. Instead of using 16Gb FC as your interconnect, network designers can use one of these. Even if you have no FCoE in your environment, you can use Cisco’s multi-protocol switches to connect to each other using 40 GbE FCoE port, which is 194% faster than a 16Gb FC ISL. It’s even 47% faster than a 32Gb FC port.
Multiprotocol switches are a compelling alternative to their single protocol brethren and Cisco seems to be in a position to lead this product category. The unique use of a 40Gb FCoE ISL that is almost 200% faster than its closest competitor is a great example of Cisco continuing to innovate.