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EMC, Dell build standards bridge over the river 'why'

Dell, EMC launch a working group to standardize the interface between disk drives and storage controllers with the promise of lowering hardware costs -- but will anyone else join?

EMC Corp., Dell Inc., Intel Corp. and LSI Logic Corp. will this week launch the Storage Bridge Bay (SBB) Working Group -- a loosely defined standards effort to build a new interface for connecting disk drives and storage controllers.

Woohoo! Yet another standards group, we hear you say. Just what the storage industry needs.

"It's open to anyone to join," exclaims chairman of the group, Bill Dawkins, a technical strategist in the office of the chief technology officer at Dell, although he admits the group has not heard anything definitive from other key industry players. He was unable to name who the group approached for legal reasons. "We are going public to drive membership," he said.

SBB is defining a mechanical and electrical interface between the backplane of a disk drive and the storage controller. The idea being, to standardize storage controller slots so that vendors can focus more research and development dollars on software instead of constantly reinventing the wheel when building hardware.

Storage users will get "increased quality, faster access to new technologies, a greater range of product offerings and lower costs," the group promises in its marketing material. However, it declines to share any details on what these products will be, who will sell them, when they will be available or to explain any of the workings behind the group.

We're guessing the first products will be Intel-powered EMC storage arrays, sold and manufactured by Dell, rebranded by LSI Logic and then resold by everybody else.

The group is self-funded and charges $2,500 for contributor members and $10,000 for promoter membership, according to Dawkins. The founding members of SBB are also members of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) but tacitly admit to body swerving this organization to avoid the bureaucracy. "There's a lot of overhead to bring out a specification [at SNIA] … we wanted to have a laser focus on one thing," to get it done, Dawkins said, adding that SBB could fold into another organization like SNIA if it would be useful.

SBB expects 1.0 of the specification to be ratified in June and for products to be available late this year, early 2007. A second group is already working on 2.0, refining sheet-metal requirements and allowances for more power.

Like SMI-S, this specification is absolutely what the storage industry needs. Only it needs every single company to adopt it, for costs to really go down. Will IBM, Hewlett-Packard Co., Network Appliance Inc., Hitachi Data Systems Inc. and others join this group, or as is so often the case, set up their own group to define a rival specification? My money's on the latter.

E-mail me with your thoughts.

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