VMotion and FCoE: A match made in admin heaven

FCoE's affect on server virtualization

In a recent review, I consolidated FC and Ethernet networks using FCoE (fibre channel over Ethernet) and Cisco's new Nexus 5000 switch. As the review showed, the combination merged the two transport protocols easily, allowing FC frames to channel through a 10G connection without giving up features or performance.

Attach a CNA (converged network adapter) to a server attached to a converged network, and you can give your applications easy access to FC storage. Essentially a 10G NIC with a split FC personality, the CNA plays both roles at once, translating into several financial and practical benefits.

But what wasn't explicitly addressed in the review is FCoE's affect on server virtualization. For example, what happens when you bring together VMware ESX, VMotion, and FCoE? Is there any advantage over the traditional FC approach?

Emulex made its Demo lab available to me to help answer those questions. The lab included three VMware ESX servers connected to a fabric network using either old-fashioned FC cards or the new CNA.

This annotated topology map, taken with Cisco Fabric Manager, shows my test bed. On the left are the FCoE players, an ESX server with an Emulex LP2000 CNA, and, connected to it, the Cisco Nexus 5000 switch.

On the right side are the FC devices and two ESX servers, each mounting Emulex LPe11000 adapters and connected to the Cisco MDS switch.

The yellow line shows the path from the test VM (middle) to the MDS switch and then to its storage devices.

One side note: The Emulex adapters implement NPIV (Nport ID virtualization), a useful feature that provides each VM with a virtual WWN (world wide name). NPIV is a much more flexible alternative to having only one WWN assigned to the ESX server, and shared by all its VMs.

The CNA allowed VMotion to easily move the test VM from the original server to the CNA-equipped ESX server, while maintaining access to its LUNs -- handy, should you want to perform maintenance on the original ESX server or balance the load across the two. Once again, the server on the left is not directly connected to the fabric and doesn't have FC adapters, only a CNA.

I had intended to post a movie clip of the test VM moving to the new ESX server using VMotion, but the action lasted only a few seconds. Not much of a movie, but that's how long it took to drag the test VM from one ESX server to another, working on the VMware Infrastructure Client (the green arrow, top left on the image link, indicates the direction of the move).

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