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Frosting the FCoE Cake…

Czech kind of sponge cake.
Image via Wikipedia

I was advised the other day that a certain manufacturer was adopting a rather interesting model for Fibre Channel over Ethernet CNA licensing.  Rather than simply purchasing a FCoE CNA with all the features (10GbE, iSCSI, and FCoE) turned on, they were going to adopt some sort of staggered licensing model that put each of those features as an option that you could license (and pay for) at a later date.

When I read this, the analogy that sprung to mind was one of, well, cake.  (I’m not a foodie, I just tend to think abstractly of food.) How many people go to a bakery and buy a plain cake that isn’t frosted and that has a payment plan against it?   You’re going to buy a cake that fits with the mindset of what a cake should be; that is, something that is complete and “ready to eat.”  Additionally, you’re probably not going to be interested in a plain cake where the end cost is greater than a pre-frosted cake!  Why would you buy something that required an order of magnitude more effort to get to a final, workable order?  You’d consider someone who bought into this idea as somewhat of a lunatic.

Expanding the analogy into the FCoE space, anyone can cobble together an FCoE solution.  Gen1 CNA products pointed this out.  You mux together a series of ASICs that were designed for specific purposes and pray that the end result justified the means of integration.  This “vanilla cake approach” is serviceable, for sure, but ugly.  Taking it even further, you could technically run the FCoE stack as software-only and get a similar result, albeit probably not what you expected by way of performance.  The point here is that the maturity model on Gen2 CNAs puts the cake and icing together in a rather pleasing and edible package  versus how Gen1 CNAs glommed everything together. Why on earth would you want to split that up by separately licensing features?!?

The point is, just like the plain vanilla cake, you buy the CNAs with the expectation that it will work for whatever you put it to use for.  You don’t extraneous crap that adds little to the value proposition of FCoE (or any sort of storage/communication fabric for that matter). You want a product that works from the onset, thatyou don’t have to worry about another CapEx consideration a year into the implementation process.  When you buy a CNA, you want the entire cake (and preferably at a price point that doesn’t require a 2nd mortgage).

I really do respect this particular manufacturer and I know they’ve spent a lot of time making sure everything works together.  They have an amazing commitment to quality but  I just am puzzled by this apparent aberration in the CNA market.  Am I missing something here?

Comments welcome.

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Dave Graham is a Technical Consultant with EMC Corporation where he focused on designing/architecting private cloud solutions for commercial customers.