CEE the future

Wherever you look these days there’s no shortage of talk about FCoE.  However, sometimes I think a little too much attention is given to FCoE and people sometimes overlook the underlying DCB/CEE Enhanced Ethernet – In my opinion, this where much of the real work and enabling is happening.  So lets spend a couple of minutes talking about CEE......

NOTE: Im using the term CEE. I should probably use DCB, but Im not.  For disambiguation of the interchangeable terms CEE, DCB and DCE see here.

Half baked

First up, and in the spirit of honesty, I have to mention that the DCB/CEE related standards are not yet fully baked.  Formal ratification is expected early to mid 2010.  However, enough is defined for major vendors to be shipping the technology.  And more than merely shipping it, some are betting large chunks of their business on it. 
CEE 10 second overview

Really quickly, CEE is currently a 10Gbps full duplex lossless Ethernet with dynamic prioritisation/bandwidth allocation and some other goodies.

Specifically -

  • Priority based Flow Control (802.1Qbb)
  • Enhanced Transmission Selection (ETS 802.1Qaz)
  • Congestion Notification (802.1Qau)

If you know the above technologies, then you will know that they are compelling and pervasive.  If you don’t know them then trust me, they are good.
The Grand Key

CEE is a key technology of the future.  For starters it is absolutely key to FCoE.  In fact without CEE there would be no FCoE, at least no compelling FCoE.  But CEE is not just for FCoE, its features and benefits can and will increasingly be leveraged by many areas of IT infrastructure…  iSCSI as well as NFS over UDP are just a couple that are commonly talked about.

Point being, FCoE is only one of the many new options made possible by CEE.
Smarter AND faster

Yes there is non-CEE 10Gbps Ethernet.  For the purposes of this post Im going to refer to it as “Dumb 10Gbps Ethernet” (and Im writing it in pink because its for girls).  This Dumb 10Gbps Ethernet is 10Gbps Ethernet without the goodness of CEE that we just mentioned above.  Sure its cheaper than the CEE version.  But, we all know that cheaper usually isn’t better.  Pay peanuts, get monkeys.   Trust me, in the long run you will want CEE….

Not convinced?  Let me draw a parallel that I hope will help create an “Aha” moment -

Just like processor technology, Ethernet can and will get faster and faster and faster.  But, like processor technology, there comes an inflection point - where getting faster and faster, but not smarter and smarter, becomes almost pointless.  The change in focus needs to be towards smarter and not just faster.

Ask yourself the following question - what are the real game changers and compelling aspects of Intel’s current raft of “Nehalem” processors?  Is it the GHz?  Or is it the built-in virtualisation intelligence and all the associated benefits (Im thinking Intel VT….)?

Same goes for Ethernet, speed is not everything, intelligence matters too.  CEE brings both speed and intelligence to the network.

Ask Hypervisor architects and admins if they would like to go back to the old days of non-hypervisor aware CPUs.  Im pretty sure they will tell you where to go.  Same goes, and will go, for people deploying and using CEE.  Once bitten forever smitten.

RupturedMonkey statement: “CEE brings intelligence to the network.
Hubs versus Switches

In my opinion, the whole Dumb 10Gbps Ethernet versus CEE smacks of the old Hubs .vs. Switches debate of days gone bye. 

Is there anybody wishing they still deployed hubs at the centre of their networks?  No.

Point being…. CEE is here and its changing the game
Cable once and most of most

All of a sudden the possibility of cable once is a reality.  CEE has the capability to run most, if not all, of most companies portfolio of network traffic over a single cable.  But more than that - over a single PCIe card and to single edge switch port.  Who wouldn’t want that? 

But there’s even more - it will simplify changes and network management, as well as bring down the cost of power, cooling and all of that jazz too!
Unabridged opinions and conclusions

So if you didn’t know previously, you know now – Im liking the look of this whole converged network unified fabric thing.  I see CEE as an essential building block of every modern Data Centre!

So with that, let me finish with a word or two to the naysayers and FUD-slingers –

Do yourselves a favour and don’t waste your time and energy trying to slow the unstoppable forward march of technology.  Believe me, it will roll right over you like a steamroller over a cockroach rat something tiny and insignificant :-P  Where would Intel, AMD or any of the major server vendors be if they had resisted the march of VMware?  After all, they would all ship more units if every server image required dedicated hardware…..  Short answer is, they would be in a world of hurt.

RupturedMonkey advice: Don’t get left behind… or rolled over by a steamroller.

Its a brave new world out there, and we as IT pro's as well, as the enabling technologies, need to move with the times.  CEE is doing just that – moving things forward. 

By all means, choose to limp forward with bog standard 10Gbps Ethernet “sans” the goodies of DCB/CEE.  If you do, then good luck to you, but dont look on enviously as the rest of us race forward into the light. ;-)


Please feel free to share your thoughts below. You can also follow me on Twitter @nigelpoulton.  I only talk about storage and technology and the conversation is often very interesting.