Group and individual memberships, interactive discussions, and a Consumer Council keep end users involved in SNIA activities.
By Tom Clark
As the umbrella organization of storage networking vendors and technologists, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is chartered to promote the adoption of shared storage solutions. This mission has both technical and marketing functions, as shown by the organizational structure of SNIA.
The Technical Council and Technical Work Groups, for example, are focused on developing the architectural framework of storage networking as well as standards requirements for key functionality that will enhance shared storage implementations. This technical activity is complemented by the work of the SNIA committees. The education, marketing, conference, interoperability, and other committees concentrate on outbound messaging for storage networking issues. The most visible of these outbound activities are the Spring and Fall Storage Networking World (SNW) conferences, which include substantial educational and interoperability events. (The next SNW will be held April 2-5 in Palm Desert, CA. For more information, visit www.computerworld.com/snw.)
Soliciting end-user involvement
To ensure that both the technical and marketing efforts of SNIA align with the strategic needs of the IT community, SNIA has created several vehicles for soliciting input and participation by end users, including individual membership, customer surveys, interactive discussions, and the SNIA Consumer Executive Council. In addition, SNIA member companies may channel end-user requirements and issues into the SNIA, based on input provided by their own customers. Collectively, these avenues to IT end users help maintain the flow of communications between vendors and end users and help keep the industry as a whole aligned with the needs of the market.
Individual membership SNIA accommodates membership for those who may have an interest in storage networking but no direct company affiliation. This classification includes consultants, academics, technologists, and others. Individual membership status provides access to the SNIA "Members Only" section of the organization's Website (www.snia.org) and participation in the Technical Work Groups and Committees. The individual membership fee is $300 per year.
Customer surveys SNIA outreach to storage consumers is facilitated by customer questionnaires, typically conducted during the semi-annual SNW conference events and through the SNW Online Website (www.snwonline.com). The questionnaire format is particularly useful since topics can be quickly updated to focus on current end-user issues and new shared storage technologies such as IP storage and virtualization. The results of these surveys are distributed to the SNIA board and are used to help shape committee activity as well as the content of the SNW conferences.
Interactive discussions Direct contact between SNIA board and committee leaders and IT end users is also promoted during SNIA events and conferences. SNW, for example, hosts interactive end-user lunch sessions during conferences to give attendees the opportunity to discuss their storage issues and solutions. This has been useful both for peer exchanges between customers and for input to the SNIA representatives who moderate the discussions. In addition, direct discussions between users and SNIA members occur during the SNW Interoperability Lab demonstrations, SNW educational seminars, and special events sponsored at the SNIA Technology Center in Colorado Springs.
SNIA Consumer Executive Council The Consumer Executive Council has been created as a more formal vehicle for end-user input into the SNIA. Consumer Executive Council participation does not require SNIA membership but assumes a vested interest in storage-networking issues at a strategic level. CIOs, senior IT storage managers, and technologists who are responsible for enterprise storage strategies within their companies are encouraged to participate in the SNIA Consumer Executive Council's discussions and face-to-face meetings. Ongoing exchanges may be conducted via e-mail threads and conference calls, with periodic meetings at convenient venues such as SNW conferences or SNIA end-user events.
Since the SNIA Consumer Executive Council has a strategic focus in defining current and future shared storage needs, participation is geared to upper-level IT executives and managers who have responsibility for enterprise-wide storage applications and infrastructure. The perspectives such individuals bring to the industry highlight both the gains and shortcomings of the vendor community and drive broader goals for shared storage technology. For the IT participants, the SNIA Consumer Executive Council offers a vendor-neutral forum for influencing the direction of the storage industry as a whole. Previously, for example, customer input has highlighted management and interoperability as priority goals, which SNIA is now addressing with both technical and outbound initiatives.
Benefits of IT involvement in SNIA
In day-to-day practice, IT executives and administrators help shape product features and functionality directly through their selected vendors. Vendors who are non-responsive to customer needs are quickly shown the door, to be replaced by more-sensitive competitors. For vendors, failing to be responsive can result in product features trailing the market, while designing products independently of customer input can result in overshooting or missing market requirements. Without a constant dialogue with the customer base, it is impossible for vendors to meet the customer needs of today and adequately plan for the needs of tomorrow.
The difficulty for IT end users in escalating their requirements, however, increases as their storage implementations become more complex and more multi-vendor in composition. Consumers of shared storage solutions should not have to become cat-herders of their vendors. Since SNIA is the umbrella organization for all storage networking initiatives, it is the natural venue for channeling end-user requirements and for asserting the priorities that customers have themselves established.
IT participation in SNIA promotes the objective interests of customers and vendors and helps SNIA fulfill its mission of advancing the industry by satisfying the real needs of users. For more information on participation in SNIA, visit www.snia.org.
Tom Clark is a SNIA board member and director of technical marketing at Nishan Systems.