SNIA circles wagons, targets SAN standards

SNIA circles wagons, targets SAN standards

By Zachary Shess

Leading members of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) last month announced plans to intensify efforts and provide a framework for tackling technological barriers that prevent interoperability between heterogeneous storage area network (SAN) devices.

With recent alliance initiatives from Sun Microsystems (Project StoreX) and EMC (FibreAlliance), some SNIA members said they feared a splintering among SAN vendors, and that dedicating more technical resources to SNIA will help bring cohesion.

Representatives from Brocade Communications, Compaq, Dell, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Legato, Quantum, Sequent, StorageTek, Sun, and Veritas all pledged SNIA unity to help standardize areas needed for multi-vendor SAN implementations.

Walt Hinton, chief strategist with StorageTek, says customers pay the price for varying standards. "If we don`t come together and propagate these initiatives rapidly, then customers ultimately are not going to benefit from what SANs provide."

Concerned primarily with heterogeneous SAN management, the group listed four components that it hopes to finalize by the end of the year.

- A common interface module for network storage devices.

- An SNMP-based MIB (management information base) for Fibre Channel SAN devices.

- A disk resource management architecture enabling a single management utility to re-allocate storage as needed.

- Host-independent SAN data mover technology for backup utilities.

One potentially contentious area is the SNMP MIB. In February, EMC formed the FibreAlliance to provide a MIB for SAN management. However, EMC officials say they will continue to work with SNIA in this area.

While SNIA would be "happy" to consider the FibreAlliance proposal, one member hopes EMC brings its MIB proposal through SNIA before developing it further.

"If people want to bring technology to SNIA and let everyone have a chance at making sure it`s open and works for the industry, that`s great," says Mark Lewis, director of engineering for Compaq`s multi-vendor storage unit in Colorado Springs, CO. "But it`s pretty hard for me to buy into a MIB from say, the FibreAlliance, when Compaq hasn`t been invited to join the FibreAlliance."

With a mandate to solve users` compatibility and management issues, Lewis and other SNIA members say last month`s announcement was to show that SNIA remains a viable standards body. "The most important thing we tried to convey was a feeling across the industry that we weren`t going to let the SAN community splinter and let a bunch of little consortiums get to the point where we have to spend all of our marketing dollars trying to market one consortium or another," says Lewis.

How the StoreX and FibreAlliance groups work with SNIA is important to the direction of storage networking and the future of the association itself, vendors say. Sun and EMC officials publicly support SNIA`s efforts and believe their own initiatives can work symbiotically. For example, Jeffrey Allen, vice president of marketing for Sun`s Network Storage Division, plans to form a working group within SNIA to evaluate how StoreX can be utilized.

EMC`s vice president of product management, Don Swatik, says EMC will continue to work with SNIA, but views the organization as only an advisory group--like FibreAlliance--which then recommends standards to organizations such as the Internet Engineering Task Force.

Most officials point out that a collective and uniform interpretation of standards is just as crucial as establishing them.

"The devil is in the details," says Swatik. "Fibre Channel is a pervasive standard, but in our labs we`ve found that the server companies all have their own interpretation."

"The hardware and some of the software are there now so we can go ahead and build SANs, but the problem is that even though these things may fit a particular standard, there`s a lot of different interpretations of the standard," says Karl Schubert, Dell`s director of storage architecture. "It really makes sense for us to get together so we can have the interoperability that the networking industry has."

SNIA is a non-profit organization with some 77 members. For more information, visit www.snia.org.

This article was originally published on May 01, 1999