SNIA Seeks Interoperability Solution

But questions remain whether rival storage, switch vendors will be able to reach common ground

Rival storage and switch vendors got together last week in the name of interoperability, but questions remain whether such solutions meet IT needs.

The Storage Networking Industry Associations Supported Solutions Forum, announced last week, aligns storage challengers Compaq Computer Corp., EMC Corp., Hitachi Data Systems Inc. and IBM with switch makers Brocade Communications Systems Inc. and McData Corp.

The Forums initial deliverables, available now, include two interoperable storage-to-switching systems and a customer support agreement establishing intervendor contact and information-sharing methods.

SNIA, a trade association for storage technology vendors based in Mountain View, Calif., was founded in 1998 to quell the normal confusion around storage devices and interconnects. Until now, little has been accomplished, but experts are encouraged.

"We have a goal of enhancing interoperability in the Fibre Channel market. It requires multivendor cooperation, and this is at the business level," said Brenda Christensen, a member of the SNIA board of directors. "This is not a false-front announcement. Each product must demonstrate that it can be added to a preconfigured fabric without interruption. The products must demonstrate reliable log-in, fault tolerance and interoperability."

The realities of such cooperation may be far different, users say.

"[Interoperability] is the main thing," said Rich Berner, chief technology officer at FreeDrive Inc., in Chicago. "Its on paper now, lets see it in practice. Its something well be looking at within the next month, to see what our options are."

Still, its a goal worth fighting for. "Theres different reasons that you want to use different peoples storage equipment, whether its speed or reliability," Berner said. "Being able to put all these devices in the same network takes away a lot of the management headache." FreeDrive, of which EMC is a minority investor, rents its storage from Electronic Data Systems Corp.

Charlie Orndorff, CIO at Crossmark Inc., a Plano, Texas, sales and marketing company, is a Compaq storage customer whos also taking a wait-and-see approach to last weeks news.

"Its good that theyre making the step to that," Orndorff said. "In the past, there have not been steps to create the interoperability, even though everyones boasting of open standards. It affects us on pricing. You now have your other vendors coming in expanding the connectivity options to that investment you already have."

But, he said, he has only "fifty-fifty" confidence that the SNIA announcement is real and complete. "They may never fully work together, but its better than them not trying to," he said. "The real factor will be the effort that they put into it. I believe there is a genuine desire to be interoperable. How successful they are is going to depend on how truly they create interoperability."