Feature Story: SNIA sets sights on standards

In April, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) announced the acceptance of an offer from Compaq Computer Corp. to provide 24,000 square feet of space along with equipment in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The location will become the SNIA Storage Networking Technology Center. For SNIA, a consortium of vendors hoping to make storage area networks and related technology more vendor independent through the development of standards, the Compaq award is a significant step forward, says Robin Glasgow, executive director of SNIA.

"This was a case of Compaq putting their money where their mouth is," says Nick Allen, vice president and research director for storage at Gartner Group in Stamford, Conn. "They have been very vocal about open standards," he explains, "so this is a really meaningful contribution."

"The new SNIA technology center will be totally vendor-independent and will fully represent the interests of our association and the industry," says Glasgow. The deal was in the works for about a year. According to Glasgow, the space will have multiple uses, including:

* Technical education for the IT community and storage networking firms

* Creating and testing of new technologies, new standards, and verification test suites

* Development and staging for technical demonstrations

* Hands-on technical training

* Interoperability testing events

"This will become a home base for SNIA," says Glasgow, "particularly for training and seminars which have been spread out all over." The Center will be operational in late 2000.

"Our collaboration with Compaq creates a first for our industry," says Dona Stever, the member of the SNIA board of directors responsible for spearheading the SNIA Technology Center development team. "The SNIA value-add to storage networking is to create an open environment that will benefit the entire end user community. Laboratories exist today that certify interoperability among existing components ... the SNIA Technology Center will develop specifications and standards achieving interoperability by design instead of testing," she adds.

The SNIA approach -- an ongoing dialogue among the industry's players -- may take some time, says Allen. However, it should yield better results than a simple "thought fest," where the industry tries to come to an agreement over a few days, "but just ends up butchering their code," says Allen.

According to SNIA technical Director, Andreas Westerinen, SNIA has already made much progress in those areas. For instance, she says SNIA's accomplishments in 1999 included reorganizing and broadening the technical organization, and defining and extending protocols and standards for functionality, management and interoperability.

During that time, the SNIA technical organization grew from five active work groups to nine. New work groups established included discovery, network attached storage (NAS), object based storage device (OBSD), and policy.

"They [SNIA] are working rapidly and aggressively to develop standards for storage area networks...and to try to get solutions deployed more rapidly," says John McArthur, an analyst with International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass.

In addition to herself, Westerinen notes that the organization is being helped by the presence of a new chief technology officer, Howard Alt, as well as a nine member technical council elected by the SNIA membership. The technical council acts as an input and review body for the various projects and standards that come from the work groups, and it clarifies and defines requirements for the organization's overall direction.

Beyond the formation of new groups, the real technical accomplishments of the SNIA stem from the efforts of the existing teams, she says. These teams focus on disk resource management, Fibre Channel, storage media library, file system and backup. She says, those groups have been working to extend the functionality of the CIFS (Common Internet File System) and SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) protocols.

Management standards efforts have been focused in two areas -Common Information Model Schemas (CIM), and Simple Network Management Protocol Management Information Bases (SNMP MIBs). MIB efforts concentrated on reviewing and assisting in the standardization of two Fibre Channel MIBs, in progress within the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) and the creation of a new MIB for reporting device and status data from a storage library. The latter, she notes, is of special significance since it is the first MIB to be based on a CIM Schema design.

Westerinen says the CIM Schema is an object oriented information model, abstracting and describing the enterprise computing environment. Schema definitions were submitted by three of the SNIA work groups (storage media library, disk resource management and Fibre Channel) for the CIM V2.2 standard, which was first published in May 1999. These schemas addressed the management of storage libraries, host bus adapters and Fibre Channel ports, as well as defining new objects to allow capacity analysis. Utilizing the CIM Schemas, a web-based management demonstration was organized by the disk resource management work group in October 1999.

The primary goal of the demonstration, says Westerinen, was to prove that storage management, using a common data model and XML stylesheets, was possible based on existing standards and technologies. The significance and success of this work led to a formal alliance between the SNIA and the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) -- another industry initiative -- in November 1999.

Westerinen mentions other accomplishments. They include, protocol extensions defined by the file system and backup work groups and extensions to the SCSI-3 Copy command submitted by the backup team to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).

"So far this year, we have submitted `extended copy' SCSI recommendations to ANSI T10 for consideration, and have provided feedback on policy-based management standards in the IETF and DMTF," she adds.

Gartner Group's Allen says SNIA remains the only group doing significant standards work in the SAN area. "They still have a ways to go -- it is like trying to control a mountain creek." And, he adds, "SNIA can influence the direction of the stream but they can't control the whole flow."

Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, Mass.

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