Storage industry crawls towards interoperability

It’s taken some time, but a specification spearheaded by the Storage Networking Industry Association has been designated an international standard by the ISO.

SNIA came up with the first version of the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) in 2004 to provide a standardized management interface that helps hardware and software from one vendor communicate with that of another.

The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) have recognized SMI-S as an international standard, and SNIA hopes this will accelerate the widespread adoption of the standard by storage vendors and IT users.

“It basically allows end users to have interoperability across various manufacturers’ products, so they don’t have to learn 10 different ways to manage their environment,” said Wayne Hogan, SNIA’s Canadian chair. SNIA members include EMC Canada, HP Canada, IBM Canada, Sun Microsystems of Canada and CGI.

SMI-S is already widely in use. It’s been tested on some 450 products from 24 storage vendors. But Hogan said the fact the ISO has accepted it as a standard is a big endorsement and will increase market confidence. “It’s a seal of approval around the world,” he said. “If they can now manage all of their environments through a common interface, it makes it a lot easier for the customer.”

But ISO certification isn’t necessarily a huge boost for the standard, said John Sloan, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research.

“The standard has been in development for a very long time and it’s been a painfully slow process and even ISO approval has been painfully slow,” he said. It’s a positive development for the progress of storage management standards, but it doesn’t mean suddenly these standards are going to proliferate any faster than they have been.

“The important thing in future is not going to be the discs or the controllers or the network fabrics. The important thing is going to be how you’re going to manage your storage, so that argues for having some sort of standard to base these management products on,” he said. “So SMI-S is good because it’s the only game in town.”

But storage vendors who support the standard have to play a balancing game, he added. They realize that being able to manage heterogeneous storage with applications that can see into and interact with all storage equally is a direction the industry is inevitably going. But at the same time, they make a lot of money from selling discs and controllers. “So they’re part of the standards body and they’re behind the standards, but they don’t want it to go too fast because they don’t want it to undercut their own margins.”

And ISO certification probably won’t make any immediate difference to the products customers have access to, he said. What will be more useful for customers is, as the SMI-S standard matures, that subsequent versions of the standard are also incorporated.

The first version of SMI-S was really about discovery and monitoring. “As SMI-S matures and the standard gets built into storage and software takes advantage of those capabilities, then storage managers should in theory be able to do more with storage management software,” said Sloan.

Today, you can buy storage management software that’s heterogeneous but what happens is the software may have to interface with vendors’ products differently. The goal is to eventually be able to have a common interface for managing storage, and that’s what more recent versions of SMI-S are addressing.

“I don’t think storage managers are going to sit and wait for that,” said Sloan. “They’ll invest in what they can get now, whether it’s one product or a group of products.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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