Monday, July 19, 2010

Fibre Channel over Token Ring

Token Ring connectorMonday morning posts on this site are normally jokes, funny observations, and amusing bits of fluff. Today I have to tip my hat to something far more elaborate: Fibre Channel over Token Ring. I can only stand in awe of the work of true masters.

The Fibre Channel link technology is lossless, with extensive flow control and data integrity mechanisms to ensure all data is delivered. Running Fibre Channel over Ethernet is saddled with significant complexity. Had Token Ring won the LAN battle instead of Ethernet, running Fibre Channel over it would be simpler. Therefore, FCoTR aims to resurrect Token Ring and make it the new dominant networking technology. Sounds simple and logical, right?

The amount of work put into this hoax is impressive.

  • There is an industry trade group, the Fibre Channel over Token Ring Alliance. In a nice touch, all of the links on the site are broken including the press release announcing its formation.
  • There is a FCoTR User Group, complete with twitter account.
  • The obligatory Wikipedia page is sadly already flagged for deletion.
  • There is a White Paper which was clearly created by a Markov chainer seeded with computer science and storage terminology, possibly SCIgen.
  • Dozens of tweets carry the hashtag #FCoTR.
  • Stephen Foskett wrote a long blog post about the idea. It starts off subtle, but becomes increasingly outrageous. As many people will only skim the first paragraph, they won't notice the claims at the end: Intel building a Micro Channel to PCI Express bridge to ease the introduction of token ring products, and Proteon making a comeback.

Greg Ferro has an excellent writeup about FCoTR and its motivations. In order to make a large network appear to be completely lossless, Fibre Channel has always relied on extremely complex designs. This leads to very expensive gear. Fibre Channel networks also run at relatively low utilization, because full buffers lead to packet loss. FC over Ethernet disrupts all of that. For vendors and storage mavens who feel threatened by a converged network, the solution is to push for a solution which will once again let them run a separate, single purpose, and thoroughly overengineered network. Token Ring meets these requirements.