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Fibre Channel Vs Ethernet Battle Continues As Brocade, QLogic Demo FC NVMe Over Fabrics

By - Source: QLogic

QLogic and Brocade are showing the first NVMe over Fabrics (NVMeF) demonstration utilizing Fibre Channel as the fabric (FC-NVMe) at the Gartner Data Center, Infrastructure and Operations Management Conference.

NVMeF is shaping up to be the leading protocol employed in future low-latency flash-based storage arrays. The NVMe consortium designed the original protocol to increase performance and scalability while simultaneously reducing latency and CPU overhead for in-chassis nonvolatile memories. It was not long before architects, enamored with the lightweight protocol, envisioned the possibilities of employing NVMe as an end-to-end fabric.

Translating NVMe into a networking protocol incurs latency, be it Fibre Channel, InfiniBand or Ethernet. NVMeF removes the translation layer and provides obscenely low latency numbers in far-flung flash appliances. However, many of the implementations are still in development and leverage RDMA with RoCE and InfiniBand connections. Mangstor is the only vendor with a shipping NVMeF-powered appliance, and we recently tested the ST-MRAM equipped MX6300 that served as the bedrock of Mangstor's NX6320 NVMeF All-Flash Array.

PMC-Sierra also displayed its prototype implementation at the Flash Memory Summit 2015, utilizing both traditional NVMe over RDMA (RoCEv2) and with Peer Direct functionality. EMC's forthcoming DSSD reportedly utilizes NVMeF, so the larger OEM vendors are obviously taking notice.

The rapid adoption of NVMeF is somewhat surprising considering it is still in the draft stages of development. Fibre Channel purists will be quick to extol the virtues of the lower-latency connection (depending upon whose testing you subscribe to), while the Ethernet and InfiniBand crowds will also weigh in with their opinions of which interconnect will offer the best NVMeF performance/cost ratio.

In all likelihood, all three implementations will find success in the datacenter. Contrary to doomsday predictions, the various interconnects soldier on, though Fibre Channel seems to be falling by the wayside. According to a Dell'Oro Group report, Fibre Channel suffered a 3 percent loss in year-over-year revenues. A 3 percent loss hardly strikes one as a death knell for Fibre Channel, but it is a notable bump in the road.

However, FC-NVMe may lead to a Fibre Channel resurgence if it can offer tangible benefits over competing RDMA over RoCE and InfiniBand implementations. There is no doubt that NVMeF is coming to the datacenter on an accelerated time frame - the only question is which interconnect will prove to be the most popular.

Paul Alcorn is a Contributing Editor for Tom's IT Pro, covering Storage. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.