Storage Vendors to Get SMI-S Stamp of Approval

In a major step toward solving interoperability within storage environments, at the Storage Networking World Conference on Tuesday the SNIA is expected to unveil a select list of hardware and software management vendors that are fully compliant with the S

In a major step toward solving interoperability within storage environments, at Storage Networking World Conference on Tuesday the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is expected to unveil a select list of hardware and software management vendors that are fully compliant with the Storage Management Initiative-Specification (SMI-S).

The participating vendors, including names such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Hitachi Data Systems Inc., EMC Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc., Veritas Software Corp., and Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc., to name just a few, have successfully passed Colorado Springs, Colo.-based SNIAs Conformance Test Program (CTP) by plugging into a common SMI-S interface and will implement the specification into their products.

According to SNIA, the management interface can discover devices on a Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN). The next version of SMI-S, due roughly in one year, will support iSCSi over IP protocols and network attached storage (NAS), while also featuring security and policy management attributes, said Ray Dunn, chairman of the SNIAs Storage Management Forum and member of SNIAs Board of Directors.

SMI-S deals with storage arrays, switches and the fabric of storage. Dunn said the specification was created to combat the problem of removing the complexity of having each device in a networked storage Fibre Channel and SAN deployment operating its own management application interface.

The SNIA-CTP interrogates the devices and reports back to the vendor and SNIA running the test that the SMI-S implementation is operating correctly. Version 1 of the specification has been submitted to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as part of the International Committee for IT Standards (INCITS) review process and is expected to be ratified as an official standard in three to four months.

"(Customers storage) decisions in the past had to be made in respect to what device could connect to what device and what could manage that. You had to make your choice based on vendor connectivity rather than business need or usability of that device or management application," said Dunn. "(Behind SMI-S) end-users will have more choices, they can buy a product and it will work in a single way."

The fact that storage vendors have stopped talking about private APIs long enough to build a common interface in a relatively short timeframe is a welcome change, said Dale Davis, industry evangelist for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp.

"I think for the last few years the lack of interoperability for Fibre Channel for different vendors has been a significant embarrassment for the industry, and it had to get fixed," said Davis. "(SMI-S) doesnt fix interoperability per se but it does fix multi vendor management. Having done that, youve got in place the structure that enables you to add-in iSCSI devices as well as fiber channel protocol devices."

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Next Page: Analysts views vary on relevance of SMI-S. Opinion about the relevance of SMI-S at this juncture varies among the analyst ranks. While some storage experts feel customers should start to include SMI-S support or SMI-S roadmap demands from vendors in their request for proposal (RFPs) initiatives, others feel the technology is much too immature to warrant serious consideration.

Phil Goodwin, analyst for Meta Group, Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said SMI-S is a "lagging standard" and as a result the research firm advises that clients or vendors that place their strategies upon SMI-S are putting themselves 24 to 36 months behind the rest of the storage industry.

"To this point SMI-S only provides basic lower functionality. (It does not answer) how does an array recover from a recovery situation? When (SMI-S) has an error, what does it do?" asked Goodwin. "Customers may have SMI-S and do some basic functionality like provisioning and masking with an SMI-S tool, but when it comes down to managing specific arrays, theyre still going to (require) vendor specific tools."

For instance, Goodwin said the current version of SMI-S lacks data replication which is a critical function for clients choosing to replicate from EMC hardware to Hitachi, as an ex-ample.

According to sources, other vendors that successfully passed SNIAs SMI-S Conformance Testing Program include Cisco Systems Inc., Computer Associates International Inc., Brocade Systems Communications Inc., McData Corp., AppIQ, Inc., CNT, StorageTek, QLogic Corp., LSI Logic Corp., Emulex Corp., Softek, Incipient Inc., Invio Software Inc., CreekPath Systems, Dot Hill Systems Corp., and Storability Software Inc.