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Lagging software interoperability challenges SAN growth, say analysts

Hardware interoperability always poses some challenges but a wide range of standards have helped ensure that the problems have been manageable. Now, though, John Webster and Diane McAdam, analysts at Nashua, NH-based Illuminata, Inc., suggest that the future of SAN manageability may hinge on the industry's ability to quickly come together around new software standards.

In a recent article called, The Storage API Dilemma: Standardize or Swap?, they note that interoperability among SAN-based software management components is still in its inaugural stages.

They point to the fact that to date, "no single software product manages multiple storage devices from multiple vendors in ways that exploit all -- or even most -- of the functions of the devices."

The missing link, they believe, is standard or shared Application Programming Interfaces (APIs).

Two efforts are afoot within industry. The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), as a follow-up to the Shared Storage Model has asked its Disk Resource Management group to come up with APIs.

McAdam and Webster note that, "SNIA's approach would allow smaller emerging vendors to produce new products in modular fashion without the considerable expense involved with acquiring and supporting vendor-related APIs. The net result: a standards approach that fosters, rather than inhibits, innovation."

On the other hand, storage giant EMC recently proposed an alternative

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called WideSky -- a kind of library -- an EMC middleware product that embraces APIs from other vendors -- to a degree.

The operating rule according to McAdam and Webster, is something like 'you show me yours and I'll show you mine...'. EMC says WideSky masks the underlying complexity of multiple vendors' products, including storage systems, network devices and host storage resources. Best of all, it is available now.

Although there could also be a "third" route to shared APIs -- namely negotiations among individual companies, Webster and McAdam argue that the SNIA approach is probably the best and cite the example of Sun's Jiro initiative which was designed to enable the management of heterogeneous storage networks, which failed to ignite much industry support.

But they warn that time is of the essence. SNIA hasn't set any speed records in the past and with alternatives like iSCSI moving ahead rapidly, they say, SNIA and its members, need to pony up the resources needed to make shared APIs a reality.

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About the author: Alan Earls is a freelance writer in Franklin, MA.

This was first published in February 2002

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