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Single-pane storage management

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Slow standards adoption
As with many fast evolving industries, little attention has been paid to standards, resulting in a flood of proprietary implementations. Only in the past few years has the storage industry worked together under the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) umbrella to create the Storage Management Initiative (SMI) to develop and standardize interoperable storage management technologies. But it takes time for a standard to evolve. "[The Storage Management Initiative Specification] SMI-S 1.0 was focused around discovery and basic management, but the latest version, SMI-S 1.1 ... goes beyond the basics, allowing a higher order of control," says Denis Kennelly, vice president of storage management product strategy at EMC.

In addition to slowly evolving standards, the adoption of existing standards has been hampered by incomplete implementations of SMI-S and vendors trying to protect their turfs. "One problem with SMI-S is that it can be implemented differently, and some vendors have opted for not implementing all features," says Eric Pitcher, CA's vice president of BrightStor product management.

To add insult to injury, "proprietary implementations protect vendors' investments and margins, and therefore prevent some vendors from truly supporting standards, and only supporting standards to the extent that it won't hurt them from a marketing perspective," says Brian Babineau, an analyst at Enterprise

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Strategy Group (ESG), Milford, MA.

That's why a single application can't manage the myriad storage devices and protocols in existence today. "Storage management deals with a huge number of variables," says David Russell, research director at Gartner Inc. "A large number of vendors, devices, applications and APIs make it a very complex problem that increases exponentially in complexity with the number of combinations."

To overcome the limitations of today's standards, vendors have added proprietary support for mainstream storage devices to their suites in addition to standards-based management. By supporting standards such as SMI-S, CIM and SNMP, their management applications can manage any device adhering to these standards; however, the hooks into these devices may not be very deep. Therefore, they also support leading storage devices from vendors like Brocade Communications Systems Inc., Cisco Systems Inc., EMC, Emulex Corp., HP, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, McData Corp., Network Appliance (NetApp) Inc. and QLogic Corp. by turning to proprietary APIs and CLI commands when standards fall short. The latter method allows the management application to manage some leading storage devices at a much deeper level than by just using the present standards.

Storage management vendors are very selective when adding proprietary support for storage devices. "Proprietary device support requires testing whenever a vendor releases new firmware and software versions. Each time we release a new version of CommandCentral, we need to ensure that it works with all devices we support," says Symantec's Danny Milrad, senior product marketing manager for CommandCentral Storage. "It's very expensive and it gets more complex the more devices we support outside of standards."

This was first published in May 2006

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