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QLogic CTO Identifies Top Technology Forces of 2016
Greg Scherer|Tuesday, January 05, 2016
CTO and Vice President

A month before the release date of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, my son was poised over his mobile device, credit card in hand, eager to land advanced tickets for the seventh installment in the third trilogy of this iconic film. An easy transaction? You’d think. Record-breaking sales, estimated to be over $100 million, crashed several major theater chains and online ticket sellers that first day tickets were made available.


My son—alongside thousands of Jedi junkies—received this Fandango error message instead of a movie ticket:


At QLogic®, we recognize that when “something funny” is going on in the data center, it’s usually not good for business. And with big shifts in the networking infrastructure, fueled by I/O-starved applications and a revolution in speeds and feeds, our goal is also to help our customers “get to the bottom of it all.”


This is the part of my job as CTO I really love: wading through the noise of technology hype and helping our company, and our customers, maneuver through the constant transitions in IT, most specifically involving network protocols, storage devices, physical servers, virtual environments, cloud deployments, and application requirements. So with the arrival of 2016, I’d like to share my thoughts on four key technology and market trends that will be driving the transaction-heavy data center into the New Year: open source technology, faster speeds and feeds, flash and solid state drive (SSD) solutions, and ease of management tools.


1. Open Source Technology

What began with Linux in the early 1990s has exploded with OpenStack, Open Compute Project (OCP), Data Plane Development Kit (DPDK) and applications like Hadoop, memcached, etc. The proliferation of open source technology will be driving IT development in 2016 more than ever. We’re taking it seriously in our labs, and think you should too.


QLogic has been an early supporter of open source technology, from being the first Fibre Channel vendor to release drivers upstream to now supporting DPDK drivers for Ethernet, management plug-ins for OpenStack, and I/O connectivity for OCP form factor server platforms. By enabling open source frameworks, we’ve expanded our internal resource pool to that of a worldwide expert community providing feedback, testing and innovation. Here are three of the most notable open trends to keep your eye on in 2016:

  • OpenStack will gain even more momentum in the coming year, particularly in the private cloud market. And with the launch of Kilo, it is more robust than ever and will be a big draw for the enterprise space. QLogic offers a comprehensive portfolio of I/O solutions for OpenStack and is developing next generation 25/50/100Gb Ethernet solutions that will very soon take I/O performance to unprecedented levels in OpenStack environments. We are also a corporate sponsor of the OpenStack Foundation, which allows us to provide additional funding to support the Foundation's mission of protecting, empowering and promoting OpenStack.

  • OCP form-factors will extend their reach in 2016 to data centers that want to take advantage of an optimized card form-factor in a variety of vendor-independent servers. At one time, far-eastern hyperscale hardware providers were the only vendors to offer OCP servers. But now, they are becoming more mainstream with Tier 1 server vendors beginning to embrace the OCP form-factor. OCP is all about broadening customer choice and allowing a new class of vendor-independent server, I/O, storage and switch hardware to emerge, which is why QLogic offers best-in-industry performance Fibre Channel and Ethernet adapters built for OCP form-factor server platforms.
  • Network Functions Virtualization (NFV) is an emerging trend that allows customers to replace or augment proprietary switch-based appliances with x86 servers, DPDK-enabled Network Interface Cards (NICs), and software that creates “virtual appliances” and provides huge flexibility to carriers, managed service providers (MSPs) and to the general data center as a whole. This is a net-new market for us as an I/O provider, and will provide a platform for us in 2016 that we didn’t have before to present additional value capabilities.

2. Faster Speeds and Feeds

Today, the majority of data center traffic is “east-west,” meaning that servers, storage and appliances all need to be interconnected in a manner that facilitates peer-to-peer conversations, as opposed to pushing traffic “north” to have conversations. This is not unlike the transformation that the telephone system went through from “operator-assisted” calls to “direct-dial” peer conversations. Between greater use of Storage Area Networks (SANs) that couple virtual servers to their shared storage to scale-out storage environments like Hadoop/MapReduce, east-west traffic patterns are driving the need for fatter interconnection (bandwidth) and faster interconnection (lower latency).

  • 25Gb Ethernet (25GbE) will be a loud topic of conversation in 2016, because it lays the groundwork for 100Gb Ethernet (100GbE) and offers up the bandwidth and performance demanded by next generation and Web-scale environments. I predict that some of the early adopters of 40Gb Ethernet (40GbE) may even backtrack to 25GbE, because of 25GbE being so much more cost effective. When you can have a single lane that offers 2.5x the bandwidth of 10Gb Ethernet (10GbE) and 60 percent the bandwidth of 40GbE at a quarter of the infrastructure cost (40GbE = 4 lanes versus 25GbE’s single lane) there’s not much more to say. Serial, single lane technology will always be much more cost effective and much easier to deploy than multi-lane technology.

QLogic has committed a good portion of its 2016 research and development resources to 25GbE because we believe the trend is undeniable (see Crehan Research chart below). We’ve joined the 25G Ethernet Consortium, are a founding member of the 2550100 Alliance, and are the first to demonstrate end-to-end interoperability for 25GbE and 100GbE connectivity. Our 25GbE technology is currently being sampled by Tier-1 server and storage OEMs with general availability expected in early 2016.

Crehan Research predicts that 25GbE shipments will reach one million ports faster than previous generations of high-performance Ethernet. (Source: Crehan Research 2015)

  • Gen 6 (32Gb) Fibre Channel is not just following on the heels of Gen 5 (16Gb) Fibre Channel, but will be the next big wave for data center consideration in as early as 2016. The shift to Gen 6 (32Gb) Fibre Channel is being driven by the demands of next generation workloads, low latency SSD/flash storage and caching, and memory-intensive and transaction-heavy applications including virtualization, online transaction processing (OLTP), data migration and 4K video production.

We’ve got an industry brief from IT Brand Pulse that spells out the 32Gb Fibre Channel trend benefit-by-benefit, especially as it relates to keeping pace with the performance requirements of new server processors (see the “Workloads per Server” chart below).


We like to be ahead of the curve at QLogic, so recently we introduced the industry’s first Gen 6 (32Gb) Fibre Channel Ready offering in our family of Enhanced Gen 5 Fibre Channel Adapters that is field-upgradeable from 16Gb to 32Gb. Our Gen 6 (32Gb) Fibre Channel capabilities, therefore, will be deployed as soon as the other Gen 6 (32Gb) Fibre Channel infrastructure components, such as switches and directors, become available in the market (expected in early 2016).

In 2016, the number of virtual machines (VMs) per server (VM density), virtual workloads, workloads per server, and I/O will reach unprecedented levels (Source: IT Brand Pulse 2015)

3. Flash and SSD storage solutions are transforming the data center, and will be a force to contend with in the immediate future as virtualization proliferates and performance-challenged enterprise applications create bottlenecks within the infrastructure. Welcome to the era of flash/SSD.


My conclusion is that flash is THE emerging trend, pushing aside the hard disk drive (HDD) incumbent; this is supported by a plethora of computing benchmarks and statistics. Because we are space-constrained, I’ll give you my top three proof points:

  • A single 2TB Non-Volatile Memory Express (NVMe)-based SSD can handle 1 million IOPS, more than 150 times the IOPS capacity of an HDD storage array in the same form factor. [1]
  • SSD/flash offers storage performance that is 10 times that of HDD. [2] 
  • Flash is 1,000 times cheaper than HDD in dollars per IOPS. [3] 

The growing prevalence of flash storage is one of the key drivers for the critical requirement for higher speeds and feeds (my number two trend). Memory-intensive, I/O-starved, transaction-heavy applications beg microsecond response times and simply put, are fired up by flash. But flash needs network performance to get the job done right. This leads us into the symbiotic discussion of the latest technology trend towards NVMe. NVMe provides a standards-based approach for PCI Express (PCIe) SSD access that significantly improves performance by reducing latency and streamlining the command set. Flash is fast. NVMe can make it even faster (as stated in my recent blog post, “Fibre Channel and NVMe: Trusted Meets Fast.”)


There are two approaches to NVMe that are looming brightly on the 2016 horizon:

  • NVMe over Fibre Channel (FC-NVMe) extends the simplicity and efficiency of NVMe by transferring NVMe commands and structures end-to-end, requiring no translations. Fibre Channel’s purpose-built, dedicated storage transport along with its parallelism and battle-hardened reliability make it an ideal transport for NVMe. We’ve published a new QLogic white paper that clearly validates my position that FC-NVMe is a trend not to be missed by any savvy storage networking team.
  • NVMe over Remote Direct Memory Access (RDMA) allows Ethernet RDMA-capable environments to transport NVMe SSD payloads rather than use the traditional rotating media transport that adds additional translation and stack overhead. While this technology is being designed in such a way that all RDMA NICs (RNICs) will be capable of supporting NVMe over RDMA, QLogic is unique by providing the world’s first (and only) universal RDMA transport by simultaneously supporting all flavors of RDMA protocols: RDMA over Converged Ethernet (RoCE), RoCEv2 and Internet wide area RDMA protocol (iWARP). This allows customers to tailor their RDMA subsystem to their application, rather than tailor the application to the hardware.

4. Ease of Management

Mission-critical, private cloud and flash-accelerated workloads are transforming the data center, and because of this you’re going to see more demands than ever before for performance, Quality of Service (QoS) and infrastructure reliability. Therefore, centralized management is one of the most critical trends for a technology-mature data center to acknowledge in 2016. “Cool technology” as laid out in this blog is only cool if it is easily managed. It must be “transparently” managed, or at least be managed in the context of commonly used tools that are native to the operating system (OS) or application.


That’s why QLogic works with partners to make I/O management built-in and as seamless as possible, with efforts like VMware vCenter plug-ins, QLogic QConvergeConsole® (QCC) utilities, OpenStack plug-ins, QLogic StorFusion™ for smarter SAN management, and more.


Best-laid Plans for 2016?

The first Star Wars movie was released in 1977, which, after subsequent episodes and prequels, became the fourth episode in a storyline that will eventually contain a series of nine movies by 2019. I’ve often wondered if the jumbled Star Wars trilogies were a result of a well-laid plan …


When asked about his creative mastery in weaving such a complicated storyline, George Lucas admitted it wasn’t a plan at all: "When Star Wars first came out, I didn't know where it was going. The trick is to pretend you've planned the whole thing out in advance.”


On that note, I’m proud to say the opposite. “Yes, we’ve planned it out in advance and know exactly where the data center is going in 2016.” I will admit to some creativity and a dash of good luck, but at the end of the day, QLogic has a well-designed roadmap for Ethernet and Fibre Channel; we’ve got a solid team of visionaries and technologists who keep their fingers on the pulse of the new application-driven revolution; and we’re supported by strategic alliances and partnerships to help us usher in the latest market and technology trends that are driving change in the enterprise.

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