Discerning storage standards from Shinola
By Jon William Toigo
"Psst! Hey, Buddy."
I turned around and looked for the source of the voice in the shadows of the vacant alley.
"Over here. Here."
That's when I spied him: a short guy wearing a baseball cap, sunglasses and a trench coat. He was your classic drifter, except for the designer eyewear, slacks, and shoes - all of which suggested greater financial substance than one might expect from a panhandler. I wondered whether Manhattan had given rise to a better-dressed class of street person.
Our eye contact seemed to encourage him.
"You look like a smart fellow. You a sharp guy? You know a good deal when you see one? Yeah, I bet you do."
I was about to turn and walk, when he asked the magic question, "Is your data growing so fast that you need to find a place to store it all really quick?"
I had heard some hustles in my day, but this one was a tad more intriguing. So, I answered with a curious nod.
"Well, well, well. I thought so," he went on, motioning me over to his shadowy corner. He glanced up and down the street suspiciously, then sized me up.
"Let me show you something."
He moved a couple of cardboard boxes aside and revealed several crates marked with recognizable logos of prominent storage vendors. "Have I got a deal for you."
"Look, I'm not in the market for stolen..." I began, when he cut me off with a wave.
"Nah, none of this stuff is hot - at least, not in the way that you think. Tell me, what is the most important thing that you are looking for in your data storage products? What would make your bosses really happy with you back at corporate?"
Before I could answer that I was an independent consultant and had no boss, save perhaps for my wife, he cut me off.
"Standards, my friend. Standards. You want all of the storage products you buy to work together. You want the SAN switches to talk to each other. You want the Host Bus Adapters and Array Controllers to work and play well together. That, my friend, requires open standards."
I couldn't argue with his logic, so I smiled in agreement.
"Yep, see there, see there? I knew you were a sharp guy. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? I knew you did."
Delighted to have his suspicions confirmed, he ramped up his sales pitch.
"What if I told you that I have a bunch of standards-based storage area networking switches here? What if I told you that these SAN switches already have the Fibre Channel Switching 2 standard - you know, FC-SW 2 - already built into 'em? Forget about the vendors, you can just plug these babies together and they'll work together. Just power 'em up and they'll start humming the same tune off the same sheet of music - exchanging all of that naming, zoning and routing stuff. Doesn't matter if you mix Brocade Communications' switches with Vixel's, or McDATA's switches with Gadzoox', standards ensure that they'll all work together seamlessly in the same fabric. What would you say to that?"
I was about to say that he'd be lying. There is no FC-SW-2 standard as yet from the American National Standards Institute. Moreover, the T-11 Committee at ANSI has just finalized a letter ballot vote to bump the draft standard up the ladder for further public comment - and not without some pretty significant criticisms from voting members like Cisco Systems.
I didn't get a chance to say anything, however. He caught onto my negative vibes and switched his pitch faster than you could say Fibre Channel Open Shortest Path First.
"Not a Fibre Channel SAN guy, huh? Yeah, I took you for a sharpie. That Fibre Channel stuff is old hat, especially now," he paused to grunt as he lifted another set of boxes up onto the makeshift table of egg cases, "...now that we've got these great iSCSI products. Just look at 'em: the boxes have never been opened. All of these iSCSI storage arrays and host bus adapters are completely compliant with the Internet Engineering Task Force SCSI over IP standard. Just plug everything into a Gigabit Ethernet switch with some CAT5 cable, and you're loaded for bear: instant SAN. Plug and play. What do you say to that?"
Again, I was about to tell him that IETF had not yet approved a final standard for SCSI over IP. Moreover, products built on the original specification would be far from interoperable with products built on the latest version of the spec, and probably less interoperable with products based on next month's iteration.
Again, he picked up on my protest before the words had the chance to issue from my mouth.
"Okay, okay. I can see from the look on your face, you're suspicious. I know what you're thinking: standards compliance is really no guarantee of interoperability. You still need to do plug fests or other certifications. But look, it will impress the heck out of your bosses that you bought a bunch of standards-compliant gear. Face it, most of 'em don't know standards from Shinola anyway, if you get my drift. I mean, why do you think the leading vendors are already claiming that their products are standards-compliant? It's all about marketing, my friend."
There was considerable truth in what he said, sadly enough. I shook my head and started to turn away. He got desperate to close the sale.
"Okay, okay. Look, how about I just sell you this nice Network Appliance network-attached storage box and throw in all of this SAN junk for a hundred bucks? Heck, the Seagate disk drives in the iSCSI arrays are worth more than that."
I could never turn down a good deal. I dug my hand into my back pocket and produced my wallet.
I love the Big Apple.
About the author: Jon William Toigo has authored hundreds of articles on storage and technology and is our searchStorage.com resident expert on storage management issues. Toigo is also the author of storage books, including, "The Holy Grail of Data Storage Management."
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