Frosting the FCoE Cake…

by dave on November 2, 2009


Czech kind of sponge cake.
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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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  • shaun_walsh

    Hey Dave,

    First, I am sure we are the vendor in question. 🙂

    The goal here is to provide choice and options. You can buy a UCNA from Emulex in several different flavors: a NIC only with hardware offload, NIC + iSCSI hardware offload, NIC + FCoE hardware offload or NIC + iSCSI + FCoE hardware offload. We did this at the behest of OEM manufactures like IBM. If you look at their Virtual Fabric Adapter (VFA) http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/bladecenter/hardw… as an example, they want to provide a cost effective 10Gb/s NIC with a path forward to iSCSI and FCoE hardware offload without making customers pay for everything all at once. If you are looking at the world from a server perspective this makes perfect sense and provides product differentiation. Emulex's new OneConnect UCNAs have full hardware protocol offload support for TCP/IP, iSCSI and FCoE. However, unlike many of our competitors, we think customers should have the OPTION to pay-as-you-go vs. having to pay-all-at-once for things they don’t need.

    However, if you are looking at the world from storage perspective, as Deni Connor of Storage Strategies Now did in her new paper on FCoE adoption http://bit.ly/4vVVVA, then you would skip the base NIC and go right to a full FCoE UCNA. We agree with her that current FC implementations would not utilize the pay-as-you-go option, but we're providing a solution for IT managers moving directly to FCoE as well.

    Emulex has a simple goal: to expand the market for network convergence, and that means we have to enable 10Gb/s Ethernet as well as 10Gb/s iSCSI and 10Gb/s FCoE with our OneConnect UCNAs. So if you need a 10Gb/s NIC today with network convergence investment protection or if you are ready to jump in to FCoE all at once, our pay-as-you-go UCNA plan lets you have the proverbial cake and eat too, with multiple flavors for any taste.

    Shaun Walsh
    Emulex

  • Storagebear

    I think this article says it all:

    http://www.networkcomputing.com/data-center/emu

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  • nigelpoulton

    Nice cake analogy, now Im hungry.

    However, keeping it closer to home and keeping it more real…….. This is exactly the same as the model we have for switches and arrays. A switch and an array ships with all of the code for vaious functionality locked away behind a license key.

    Want to unlock COW, replication capabilities, cache pinning… in an array – buy a license!

    Want to unlock advanced performance monitoring, zoning or advanced features – buy a license.

    So it follows nicely….

    Want to unlock advanced features such asFCoE, iSCSI offload etc on a CNA – buy a license.

    For me it makes perfect sense, especially since it starts at the price point of a 10Gbps Ethernet adapter and apparently wont cost more in the long run.

    Oh and Im sure it makes sense for Emulex too – after all they're not quite ready with all of the features yet are they 😉

    I wrote about it here a few days ago – http://blogs.rupturedmonkey.com/?p=553

    Nigel

  • Nigel, thanks for the post. Re: switches. It makes sense from a switch perspective based on already existing port counts. Where a CNA only has 2 ports, does it really make sense for an IT admin to go back and look at n% of CNAs installed in order to license the ports fully? Given that servers require unique management interfaces, this can be quite an onerous task. A switch, however, isolates all ports within a given management interface as well as providing CLI and GUI access for licensing. This makes switch updates, port licensing, etc. a much easier task and, as we all know, time is money. If Emulex made some sort of downstream firmware and license updating script available that allowed for central updates of all HBAs/CNAs of a given license type, that'd be awesome and would work in their favour.

    One little outlier that no one has really talked about is the LOM business. In that integration, this layered licensing model makes PERFECT sense since the control stacks are usually passed up THROUGH the server management console and consequently can be updated based on a dependency tree. Starting out with a 10GbE implementation and growing to a full-bore DCE/CEE/FCoE fabric could be accomplished relatively easily. Does that make sense?

    anyhow, good thoughts from Shaun and others!!!

    cheers,

    Dave

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  • Tom Trainer

    This just seems like a tough row to hoe for Emulex as it moves forward. Clear examples of pricing – for the base UCNA at install time, and then upgrade pricing – may make things clearer, or they may make things more confusing.

    The just annonced VCE coalition, and new joint venture “Acadia” will certainly have the unique abiltiy to leverage the newest innovations and best-of-breed technologies. Simply stated, I see this group moving forwad rapidly with FCoE.

    What about the balance of the I.T. shops? Adoption of and integration of FCoE is on a curve and time-line that has been widely defined by many pundits. Emulex has delived its new strategy and rolled the dice…will it make its number, or crap out?

  • Artificial limitations on preexisting features, creating a false economy…

    I guess the cake is a lie.

  • Artificial limitations on preexisting features, creating a false economy…

    I guess the cake is a lie.