Inside the SNIA

With the advent of multi-platform shops, interoperability issues and the increase of storage area network installations, the need for standards has become a predominant issue with users and vendors alike. In the thick of it all is the Storage Networking Industry Association. (SNIA). Known as the umbrella organization of the storage-networking world, the Mountain View-based SNIA's recent efforts have produced results, most notable of which is the completion of the first phase of its ongoing effort to enhance the use and manageability of Storage Area Networks (SANs) with the arrival of the Host Bus Adapter (HBA) Application Programming Interface (API). SearchStorage sat down with Tom Clark, the newly elected member of the SNIA Board of Directors, to talk about the inner-workings of the group, the reasons behind its success, and what users can expect to see in the near future. Clark also serves as co-chair of the SNIA Interoperability Committee, and Technical Marketing Director for Nishan Systems, Inc., a storage company specializing in Storage over IP technology based in San Jose, Calif.

What is the SNIA's mission?
The main goal of SNIA is to promote the adoption of storage networking technology. This includes both hardware and software technologies, as well as services such as storage outsourcing. Accelerating adoption is accomplished by several means, including standards development via SNIA working groups, interoperability testing and demonstrations through the SNIA Interop committee, education, and marketing through events like StorageNetworking World. Since the SNIA promotes all storage networking technologies, members include vendors of storage management software, NAS, Fibre Channel, tape and storage subsystems, as well as emerging technologies such as storage virtualization, Infiniband and Storage over IP. We also encourage participation by end-users of storage networking to help us define viable solutions to their storage problems. What do your day-to-day duties for the SNIA entail? For Nishan Systems?
As a board member, I am involved in setting SNIA's strategic objectives and ensuring that our resources and finances are effectively allocated. The board meets every other month for strategic planning and to discuss and approve initiatives that will help drive the market. When you're on the board you have to wear several hats. You really have to be concerned with the global issues that rise above [any vendor issues] so that everyone has the opportunity to play together. As a chair of the SNIA Interoperability Committee, I work with my co-chair Sheila Childs on standards compliance test suite generation and organization of interoperability demos for events like Storage Networking World (SNW). Given the scope of our membership, trying to coordinate interoperability activities is always a challenge. SNIA Board and Interop activity takes at least a third of my time. On Nishan's behalf specifically, I'll be working within SNIA to promote standardization of issues related to Storage over IP. For my day job at Nishan, I'll be working with customers and partners to define applications for Storage over IP, help represent Nishan at industry conferences and events, continue SAN evangelizing around the world, and develop white papers on SoIP solutions. Nishan has assured me there will be plenty to do. Is there any in-fighting between vendors in the SNIA?
Industry associations are by nature always struggling with contradictions. At a higher level, all vendors recognize that their individual success is tied to the success of the entire industry. Individually, however, some vendors are direct competitors and must find a way to both compete and cooperate for their common good. So while an EMC and Compaq, or Brocade and Vixel, may compete in the market place, they have common interests within SNIA. For SNIA to be effective, the board, committee chairs, workgroup chairs, and active members must constantly assert vendor neutrality around all SNIA-sponsored efforts. The large interoperability demo at the Orlando SNW, for example, was with only a few exceptions, an impressive example of vendor cooperation despite conflicting competitive interests. Even though I had been involved in it for months, I was amazed at how well it went and how closely the vendors worked together. Not at all the cat-herding one might expect. How important are standards groups like the SNIA to the advancement of storage technologies? Could independent vendors accomplish the same goals if given enough time?
In the history of the computer industry, independent vendors have tried to go their own way on architectures, protocols and management. The result was proprietary systems that, no matter how well engineered, were ultimately rejected by customers. Although a customer may buy products from a single vendor today, the customer wants the flexibility of going elsewhere tomorrow. No one wants to be locked into to a single solution or supplier. Open systems mentality is so strong in the marketplace that no vendor can risk developing a technology in isolation or with only a small affinity group of partners. For storage networking, SNIA's standards initiatives such as Extended Copy and the Host Bus Adapter API are essential for advancing the industry. The more quickly customers can be assured of stable, interoperable and manageable solutions, the more quickly they will move from evaluation to adoption. In the case of Host Bus Adapter management, the SNIA workgroup produced viable results in a short time of four months. We were able to demonstrate use of the API by various management software vendors at the Orlando SNW interop demo. Standardization and interoperability is also critically important for emerging technologies such as Storage over IP and Infiniband, since these systems will need to be backward compatible with Fibre Channel products and will require common management tools. What can we expect to see from SNIA in the near future?
Several major initiatives like the creation of a storage over IP workgroup as well as an Inifiniband working group to serve as a liaison between the SNIA and the Infiniband Trade Association. The opening of the technology center in Colorado Springs. That center itself will be home to a range of activity like testing suites, vendor demos, suite integration, workgroups and education. We are planning heavy initiatives in Asia and Europe aimed at consolidating and coordinating the storage networking efforts in a similar vein as the efforts here in the U.S. The European effort will really be launched in the first quarter of 2001 and will see similar activities in terms of workgroups. We have some key people in place now in Europe taking steps toward that end. To what do you attribute the increased vendor interest in SNIA and its growing role in the industry? What will it take to further advance its efforts?
I've been on the board for over the last year to fill an interim slot. This was the first time I had to stand for election. There were 17 candidates up for six slots on the board. I've never seen so much interest. In the past, SNIA was sometimes viewed as being too slow in promoting standards and concrete results. I think that view has changed as member companies have invested more talent and resources into SNIA, and as SNIA-sponsored efforts have shown significant successes. The plain fact is, no matter what the vehicle, the standardization track takes time. The more talent applied, the less time it takes. So I would just encourage fellow vendors and customers to focus on working within SNIA for storage network issues and to help our collective effort.
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