Industry veterans fondly remember the LAN wars of the early 1990’s, when a diverse set of excellent data link protocols competed for dominance. Although the victory seemed to have gone to Ethernet, industry insiders are looking for a resurgence of better alternatives. One technology, Token Ring, is undeniably superior for transporting modern protocols, especially Fibre Channel for storage. Let’s take a look!
Meeting Modern Needs
Ethernet is poorly-suited for modern datacenter needs. It lacks the reliability and guaranteed delivery needed by storage protocols, the packets are too small, traffic cannot be prioritized, and thick coaxial cables barrel connectors have proven unreliable. We have heard rumors of so-called “data center” enhancements, but analysts are unimpressed. “Ethernet doesn’t belong in the data center,” says Steve Duplicity of the Universal Strategy Federation. “Data center bridging extensions are as useless as the snow tires my Ferrari dealer sells. No one would ever use them in anger.”
Token Ring, in contrast, comes prepared for data center use right out of the box. Token Priority, previously used only to avoid collisions, can also be used to prioritize storage traffic over all other payloads. “Collisions are as common on Ethernet networks as on High School parking lots,” continues Duplicity, “and avoidance algorithms work as well as the American drivers’ education system.” Prioritization of Ethernet packets has been similarly problematic. “Guaranteed bandwidth is key,” claims Packet Pusher Ethan Banks. “Storage, like school kids, wants to be transported on a bus, and Token Ring can arbitrate that access.”
Token Ring’s 20% payload size advantage makes the network more efficient than Ethernet. Although a typical Fibre Channel frame of over 2 KB would still need to be split in two, Token Ring advocates insist that two of their frames will be “much better” than two Ethernet frames. This makes Fibre Channel over Token Ring (FCoTR) “a sure thing” according to insiders like W. Curtis Preston.
The entire industry is lining up to support Fibre Channel over Token Ring. “We’re looking at it,” admitted Liem Nguyen of Compellent at Gestalt IT’s Tech Field Day. “The more we hear about FCoTR, the more people are talking about it.” Nguyen admitted that Compellent was giving FCoTR the consideration it deserved.
Support for the Fibre Channel over Token Ring user group and blog has jumped rapidly in recent days (see Too good to be true). Storage startup Nimble Storage admitted at Tech Field Day that they were watching FCoTR “with great interest” and could, in theory, support the protocol alongside iSCSI. NetApp will respond to “customer demand” for FCoTR, agrees Alex McDonald.
Network manufacturers are excited to bring Token Ring back as well. “Madge Networks is ready to support demand,” notes USF’s Duplicity. “And I hear Proteon is making a comeback as well. IBM, of course, never stopped supporting Token Ring and has thousands of loyal customers.” Intel is reportedly working on a Micro Channel to PCI Express bridge to ease the transition.
Cisco is predictably sour on the product. “You have got to be kidding me,” said a company spokesperson who asked not to be identified. “Token Ring? Seriously? Are you calling on a Motorola StarTAC?”
Network experts were cautiously optimistic. “Trill uses isis, which was largely ripped off from DECnet,” notes potato fan Russell Heilling. “Is storage over DECnet just around the corner?” Jeff Darcy and Greg “Ethereal Mind” Ferro were excited at this prospect. “Whoa, the storage folks would LOVE THAT,” says Ferro of FCoDECnet.
Ferro sums up the appeal of FCoTR. “Anyone stupid enough to believe in Fibre Channel is absolutely stupid enough to be convinced that FCoTR is a good idea.”
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