SNIA wages war on interoperability


The Storage Networking Indus try Association's recently formed Supported Solutions Forum has met with mixed reviews. On one hand, proponents say the initiative, which is being billed as the storage industry's first consumer advocacy body, holds significant promise for users looking to implement and support interoperable, multi-vendor storage area networks (SANs). On the other hand, skeptics claim it lacks the necessary industry and technology support to markedly affect SAN interoperability.

"Leading the charge are the largest vendors only," says Richard Lee, president and CEO of Data Storage Technologies, a storage consulting firm in Ridgewood, NJ. "They have formed what appears to be an exclusive club, where you must be dominant in your market segment to participate."

"Not so," responds Marc Oswald, SNIA chair and Supported Solutions Forum chairperson, as well as director, technology alliances, at Brocade Communications Systems, to charges that the size of the forum is indicative of the breadth of industry support. "What we've tried to do is respond to user requirements, and these first configurations reflect those needs."

"Our original goal was to start with a small, manageable group of vendors and then grow that list going forward," adds Brenda Christensen, a member of the SNIA board of directors.

The forum is open to all SNIA members, but currently only switch vendors Brocade and McData and storage systems vendors Compaq, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, and IBM have signed on. Noticeably absent from the list were vendors such as Hewlett-Packard and Sun, as well as software vendors such as Veritas.

"Clearly, it's only a first step, but it's a step in the right direction," says Mark Sorenson, vice president in Compaq's storage software and solutions division.

SSF-certified SAN fabrics: Both configurations support multiple data zones on a single Fibre Channel fabric.
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"It addresses one of the last elements of interoperable Fibre Channel-based SANs," explains Christensen. "It verifies for customers that multi-vendor storage systems can be connected seamlessly in a high-availability architecture, and more importantly it gives users more flexibility in mixing and matching SAN components, as well as a much-needed single point of contact for support," she says.

"It proposes to give users exactly what they want," says John Webster, a senior analyst with Illuminata, a research and consulting firm in Nashua, NH. "Users want one person to point one finger at when there are issues to be resolved. Previously, users had to buy a SAN from one source. That's no longer true, and that's the real significance of this announcement."

"We've responded to an industry challenge to link 'cooperation' with 'interoperability,' for users who don't have the time or expertise to ensure interoperability," says Christensen.

Users consistently rank staffing and interoperability issues as key deterrents to SAN deployment. According to analysts' estimates, only 10% to 15% of all enterprises have implemented SANs.

To ensure the highest level of cooperation among participating vendors, the forum has identified four building blocks. Explains Christensen: Vendors must sign cooperative support agreements, agree on configurations and software levels, exchange equipment, and coordinate the testing and qualification of various SAN configurations.

To date, this process has produced two fully supported Fibre Channel SAN configurations-one based around the Brocade SilkWorm 2800 switch, the other around a McData ED-5000 Director (see diagrams). Both configurations support multiple data zones (e.g., Compaq, EMC, Hitachi, and IBM) on a single Fibre Channel fabric. The storage arrays share the same SAN but are partitioned into four isolated data zones.

The challenge going forward, says Brian Truskowski, vice president of technology and strategy for IBM's storage systems group, will be to rapidly enhance forum participation and the scope of hardware and software that is supported.

"The objective is to have dozens of configurations, which are not necessarily based on the technologies of the [founding members]," says Ron Lloyd, vice chairperson of the Interoperable Configurations Subgroup, one of two subgroups formed to support the forum's efforts.

SNIA refutes charges that the forum is the result of impending competition from IP storage technologies such as iSCSI. "It wasn't driven by IP storage, but by user demand," says Sorenson. "IP is just another colored wire."

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Marc Oswald

This article was originally published on July 01, 2001