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September, 2008

My thoughts on managing the converged fabric

Flying back to Charlotte tonight.  I’m somewhere over the east coast.  I wonder if the GPS on my iPhone would work up here…..  I better not risk taking the plane down.  Chuck Hollis posted a good discussion on his blog concerning the management of a consolidated I/O fabric, whether it be 10GigE with FCoE or Infiniband.  Simply put, who manages that?  Is it the network team or the storage team?  Both?

The answer, of course, depends on the IT department.  In some department there is no hard division of teams but in large enterprises there most definitely is a separation.  At several previous positions I managed projects that dealt directly with both teams.  I have found that they each have different mindsets, priorities, and requirements.  The storage teams always focused on standardization, almost to a fault.  It could be a monumental effort to get a LUN built on a different type of RAID group than was the norm.  The network teams are used to technology moving at a faster pace and having to adapt without the constant worry above their head about losing production data.  When the production network goes down it’s bad, there is no denying that, but it’s not on the same level as losing production data.  The network can recover, the data may not.

With that said, why are organizations starting to look at consolidated I/O fabrics?  The big reason is cost.  It costs less to buy, manage, power, and cool a single fabric.  A single fabric can be made up of a single type of switches and servers only need a single type of connection adapter.  It takes less power when you don’t need twice as much hardware and the sysadmins like the fact that their drivers get reduced down and simplified.

But who manages this new fabric?  I have seen some very good storage groups struggle while implementing iSCSI and getting it to perform as needed.  I have seen the finger pointing between the teams that can ensue.  I think eventually there will be a division of duties.  The storage teams will handle the actual storage and connectivity.  The network groups will eventually handle the fabric itself, mainly due to the fact they are used to designing, managing, and monitoring a complex data network already.  Their biggest concern today is the lack of visibility in to these new systems.  That was the big hurdle to overcome when introducing Infiniband in to an environment.  10Gb Ethernet should be easier as the current tools should be able to add support quickly for extensions such as FCoE.  But what about more complicated implementations such as DCE from Cisco?  Time will have to tell on those.

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