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Why you need to care about standards

Here, Jamie Gruener discusses the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S), what it means the storage pro, and what you should ask vendors about their support of SMI-S.

Last week at Storage Networking World there was an understated announcement: 100 products from 14 companies passed...

the SNIA Conformance Testing Program (SNIA-CTP) for the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S version 1.02).

Problem is, unless you truly understood what this meant, it probably appeared to be more of an excuse for storage vendors to issue yet another press release. The thing is, this test actually demonstrates that products are meeting the initial requirements for this still emerging storage standard.

This test is also one of the last milestones before the long awaited first support for the SMI-S standard will start to be rolled out in products later this year and into 2005, close to four years since vendors started debating how to improve storage device management and interoperability.

I thought I would spend this column discussing the standard, what it means to you the storage professional, and what you should ask storage vendors about their support of this standard.

What's probably the biggest surprise of this standard has been the lack of education vendors have done to get users up-to-speed on what this standard means.

Hopefully the volume will increase this year (I think a number of vendors I spoke with at SNW were rolling out plans to discuss their support more openly during 2004 both as a group as individually), but in the meantime, here's some basics to consider:

  • SMI-S stands for Storage Management Initiative Specification. Originally known as "Bluefin," the mission is making it easier for hardware and software from different storage vendors to work together. Full interoperability nirvana will have to wait for a number of years. This is because of the large number of older storage systems, switches, HBAs and software tools that won't support SMI-S. The idea will be for vendors to roll out support for forthcoming products as well as existing systems on some level. Mileage will vary depending on vendor.

  • Technically, SMI-S uses the CIM (Common Information Model) and WBEM (Web-based Enterprise Management) specifications to establish common models describing storage hardware and storage functions. Vendors then will write interfaces that allow their hardware and software to share data using these common models. Ideally, the benefits of SMI-S could mean that customers will have to deal less with the cumbersome and time-consuming compatibility matrixes that have driven many buying decisions in recent years.

  • SMI-S is likely to decrease vendor development costs over time. This might translate to lower prices for some storage platforms -- if vendors pass those price breaks on.

  • There are dangers and challenges remaining, the most significant of which is continuing market momentum in which vendors remain committed to the standard and innovate across it.

  • Another problem is directly related to Information Lifecycle Management (ILM). This new deployment model traces data through a progression of steps from birth to death. Inherently, because of the specific nature of a lot of ILM processes, software and hardware strategies, there is a significant risk the storage industry will fragment again, creating new islands of management that bring us back to where we started. The good news is the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is considering ways to standardize parts of this new approach, which should have benefits to customers.

    So here is some early evaluation advice customers should consider:

  • Ask your preferred storage system and storage software vendors when they will have support for SMI-S. A number of customers I have talked to in the last several months have begun to require SMI-S support on vendors' roadmaps in order to participate in RFPs. Ask for more information about what platforms and software components will be enabled, and can this be demonstrated today.

  • Start considering where SMI-S enabled devices and fabrics will have a role in your storage environment. While it will take another year or more for products to be available universally, it is a good time to consider longer-range plans for storage consolidation and SAN migrations.

    For more information:

    Tip: Vendors pass SMI-S test

    Tip: SMI-S: What's in it for storage managers?

    Tip: The state of SMI-S

    About the author: Jamie Gruener is a expert and the primary analyst focused on the server and storage markets for the Yankee Group, an industry analyst firm in Boston, Mass. Jamie's coverage area includes storage management, storage best practices, storage systems, storage networking and server technologies. Ask him your storage management questions today.
  • This was last published in April 2004

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