Standards effort undermined
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I ADMIT IT--I really like standards. It's not quite an obsession, but I see the specter of standards looming with more and more discussions about storage products. And it truly is like a specter, with the ghostly presence of standards hovering around such important issues as storage network management and product interoperability.
Standards make life easier for both users and vendors. For users, the pros are plain to see: avoiding vendor lock-in, getting the right tool for the right job and having all the pieces of the puzzle fit to form an organized, manageable picture. For vendors, standards are a harder sell for all the same reasons; however, having a bunch of grumpy, dissatisfied customers struggling to make their storage shops run efficiently is a pretty compelling reason to jump on the standards bandwagon.
And most vendors have done that, riding along on the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) vehicle toward the stated goal of developing standard specs so that everyone's products can play well together. Sounds cozy, but getting competitors to play nice is tough, so SNIA members aren't quite ready to join hands and sing "Kumbaya."
But some of them are touting standards while marching to the beat of different drummers and dishing up press releases, spin-offs, pseudo-standards and other marketing agitprop. And it's really picked up in recent months. A few months ago, Dell and a cadre of partners (all SNIA members) independently introduced the Storage Bridge Bay (SBB) Working Group standard. Shortly afterwards, Dell followed up with the first (and only) SBB product.
SNIA member IBM also looked a bit rebellious by sprinting off in yet another direction by creating Aperi, an organization that supports open-source standards for storage management. The buzz is that IBM formed the group because SNIA was limited to developing specs and not actual coding, a claim countered by SNIA Chairman Wayne Adams. "SNIA's current charter and capabilities are set up where it can do software," says Adams, noting a number of ongoing and past SNIA software efforts. Indeed, Aperi's foundation may have been shaken in June when Sun, one of the group's charter members and a vocal champion of open source, bolted the organization, saying it believed development efforts should be overseen by SNIA. "SNIA's not splitting in half, where half are going to Aperi and the other half stays in SNIA," asserts Adams.
But there's more. Apparently bent on showing that being a member of SNIA doesn't preclude displays of individuality, EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, Sun Microsystems and Symantec announced several initiatives designed to bring SMI-S--SNIA's bedrock standard--closer to product reality. Quickly dubbed the "Gang of Five," these companies also said their efforts would be entirely under the aegis of SNIA.
"The five companies are taking a leadership position to say we're all on the same page here," says Tom Rose, portfolio lead for storage software for HP StorageWorks, "and [that] we all want to do this within SNIA and not spin off other groups to do this." He adds that it "was a chance for us to jumpstart the whole process." Thank goodness it isn't just a marketing ploy.
Through all of this, you have to admire Adams. Behind closed doors he might have broken a couple of chairs, but he remains resolute. "It looks like the industry split and the vendors can't get along," says Adams, acknowledging the confusion. But he notes that more than 200 SMI-S-compliant products are now available. "The cornerstone is still SMI-S," says Adams. "It's real [and] it's here today."
So it looks like the ball's in your court. Tell your vendors to quit their marketing games and start rolling out real standards-based products.