EMC spearheads SAN management standard

Posted on March 01, 1999


EMC spearheads SAN management standard

SNMP-based MIB spec due this month; products next quarter

Dave Simpson

With an impressive list of charter members, EMC last month officially launched the FibreAlliance initiative. The goal of the group is to provide a specification for managing devices in storage area networks (SANs) and to fuel adoption of Fibre Channel SANs. The spec will define an SNMP-based MIB (management information base) that will enable users to manage storage network devices in much the same way they manage devices on standard networks.

OWe think this will move the SAN adoption curve ahead by as much as a year,O contends Don Swatik, vice president of product management at EMC. OThe need for management is fundamental in Fibre Channel SANs, and a lack of common methods for managing heterogeneous devices in SANs would delay adoption.O

In addition to EMC, which plays the role of facilitator in the joint initiative, charter members of the FibreAlliance include hub/switch vendors Ancor, Gadzoox, G2 Networks, McData, and Vixel; host bus adapter (HBA) vendors Emulex, Jaycor Networks, and Qlogic; and software vendors Legato, Veritas, and Hewlett-Packard?s OpenView Business Unit. HP?s Enterprise Storage Solutions Division is the only server vendor in the FibreAlliance charter membership. Noticeably missing from the list were any RAID vendors other than EMC.

Conspicuously absent from the charter membership list are other RAID vendors, which will be required if the FibreAlliance spec is to achieve standard status.

OUnless there?s more than one RAID vendor supporting it, I?m not sure how it can become a standard; it?s more a proprietary thing,O says Joel Reich, director of product management at Clariion. OUntil the FibreAlliance includes a bunch of other RAID vendors, I don?t see it as a standard.O

EMC?s move came on the heels of Sun?s announcement of its Project StoreX initiative, which is an effort to establish storage management and interoperability standards through a set of APIs (see InfoStor, February, p. 1). It?s unclear whether StoreX and the FibreAlliance specs will compete or be complementary.

OThere are attributes of each that could end up competing, but you could also argue that they are somewhat complementary,O says Rick Franz, director of corporate marketing at Qlogic, in Costa Mesa, CA. OIt should all solidify as these proposals go through standards committees.O According to EMC?s Swatik, the FibreAlliance spec will be submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards organization this month, as well as the Storage Network Industry Association (SNIA). Products based on the FibreAlliance spec are due next quarter.

OSun is coming from the top down, focusing on APIs, and EMC is coming from the bottom up, focusing on MIBs,O says Erik Ottem, director of strategic marketing at Gadzoox, in San Jose. OIt?s conceivable that the two standards

could work together. The rubber will meet the road when they get into standards organizations.O

OStoreX and the FibreAlliance MIB serve different functions,O says Bill North, director of storage network programs at Veritas. OThere?s a lot more to managing a SAN than just the MIB,O he says, adding that the two standards could eventually work together.

Five vendors are on the early supporter list for both initiatives: Gadzoox, Legato, Qlogic, Veritas, and Vixel. Both standards efforts are expected to garner additional support over the next few months.

Another potential player in the race for SAN management standards is Compaq, with its Fibre Channel SAN-focused Enterprise Network Storage Architecture (ENSA), which will eventually include SAN management software (InfoStor, January, p. 1).

What?s in it for end users and storage integrators? OThe standard will provide a common framework for launching hub, switch, and HBA management software and, for users, the ability to monitor the basic status of all SAN components through a common framework,O says EMC?s Swatik. OFor vendors, the main benefit is time to market, which will allow users to more rapidly deploy enterprise-class SAN management solutions.O

EMC officials say that about 90% of the FibreAlliance specification defines an SNMP-based MIB, which would be embedded in SAN devices. Although initial implementations will allow only basic device-monitoring capabilities (e.g., Ored, yellow, greenO status), the alliance is also working on features such as automatic discovery, port-level monitoring of device health status, and zoning.

Potentially confusing the matter, the SNIA industry consortium has for some time been working on a MIB for managing SAN devices, and was expected to submit it to the IETF this month. That initiative could present competition for the FibreAlliance MIB, although most participants think the two projects will merge in some way.

OI fully expect the MIB effort at SNIA to overlap the efforts of the FibreAlliance,O says Veritas? North. OUltimately, when the SNIA MIB definition is concluded, I think it will envelop the bulk of what is in the FibreAlliance MIB definition.O

The good news for users is that all of the activity around SAN management should hasten the development of standards. OEMC is trying to accelerate the process, and that might accelerate what?s going on in SNIA,O says Mark Nicolet, a research director at the Gartner Group consulting firm, in Stamford, CT.

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