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The Value of Adapters in a Software-Led World

While the role of software has been important to the technology world for a long time, the emerging Software-Defined Data Center, or what Wikibon calls “Software-Led Infrastructure”, highlights the importance of code over boxes. Sheet metal, ports, and devices don’t go away, but as more products are made up of commodity or off-the-shelf components, the intellectual property is in the stack that sits above the physical layer. Hardware does still matter in a software world; hardware that can provide flexibility for the mobility and change that defines the modern data center and cloud environments will be able to ride the waves of change to additional growth opportunities.

The edge of the network,where the server and network meet and where physical and virtual networks collide, is seeing a lot of activity. As a recent Wikibon survey of VMware customers showed, Fibre Channel (FC) is the top protocol choice for virtualization environments, and a majority of users are using both FC and Ethernet. QLogic has started shipping it’s FlexSuite 2600 adapters which support 16Gb FC today and will support end-user field upgrades to 10Gb Ethernet in the near future.

Figure 1: Chart shared by permission fromCrehan Research
Figure 1: Chart shared by permission from Crehan Research

The strength of FC is that it provides a reliable and scalable environment built with software drivers that have been thoroughly tested and deployed with every permutation of applications in data centers around the world. At Brocade Tech Day 2012, Brocade’s CFO said that the FC SAN TAM is expected to have a 2%-5% CAGR from 2012-15. As I stated last year, the fate of FC vs Ethernet is less critical than new business initiatives or models such as Big Data, IaaS or converged infrastructure.

That being said, solutions like QLogic’s FlexSuite allow CIOs to continue with FC today with the option of moving to Ethernet in the future on the same hardware. While most companies have at least started the upgrade from 1Gb to 10Gb Ethernet, the industry is still shipping more 1Gb than 10Gb. The Intel Xeon Processor E5-2600generation of server is helping to accelerate adoption of 10Gb. As seen in Figure 1, according to data from Crehan Research, 10GBase-T adoption is hitting an inflection point with the new servers now shipping. (QLogic also announced new 10GBase-T Ethernet adapters). With QLogic’s FlexSuite 2600 adapter family, the conversation changes from a protocol (FC vs. FCoE vs. iSCSI or NAS) to a simpler solution discussion where the components can handle the protocol(s) required today with the knowledge that it’s simple to adjust with changes in the future.

Action Item: Server adapters and cabling are the foundation of any architecture, even in a software-led virtual data center. CIOs should consider the future options of this layer of the stack when upgrading to a new generation of servers or rearchitecting the network. Adapters that allow FC and Ethernet as a single solution deliver the value of flexibility for a future that is likely to change before the next upgrade cycle.

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