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Standards watch: Copy services standard in the works

Will SMI-S 1.1 aid copy services?

There may come a day when an array's snapshot or mirroring functionality will work with any storage management application right out of the box. At least, that's the promise of the Storage Networking Industry Association's (SNIA) Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) 1.1.

"The goal of the SMI for 2005 was that all storage types would be managed by SMI-S, and we've achieved that," says Ray Dunn, chair for SNIA's Storage Management Forum and industry standards marketing manager at Sun Microsystems. Device types already managed by SMI-S include arrays, switches, tape libraries and host bus adapters.

"Now that we can see all these devices," Dunn says, "the next thing is to move up the stack and begin to talk about providing storage services." Examples of services the SMI wants to tackle include copy and security services, and policy-based management.

At an SMI Lab Plugfest this month, several SMI members, including EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM and Sun were slated to try out SMI-S 1.1's copy services code, the initial implementation focus of SMI-S 1.1. This SMI-S feature taps into an array's ability to create a mirror or snapshot using a single, standardized set of commands and instructions, and manages the copy operations. The actual copy, mirroring or snapshot process will continue to be performed by the array.

Today, if a storage management application wants to use an array's copy service capabilities, deep levels of integration using APIs proprietary to the array are required. That seriously limits the utility of a storage management application, as it is only able to work with those arrays with which it has been integrated.

Dunn characterizes this latest SMI activity as "extreme business value. Not only do we offer the code, we also normalize the terminology."

It's unclear when SMI-S 1.1-compliant arrays and storage management applications will surface. If the past is any indication, "it won't happen overnight," Dunn says. "It's a gradual process, almost transparent to the end user." But users shouldn't assume that SMI-S copy services are a given. "We want end users to ask their vendors about their support for SMI-S 1.1," notes Dunn, just so they know that users want this functionality.

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