Reaching toward unity

You are probably tired of hearing that the cost of managing storage is significantly higher -- by a factor of seven, according to some estimates -- than the cost of purchasing the actual storage infrastructure.

Probably even more annoying is realizing that storage management is expensive because much of it is based on human labor. Unless you have a single-vendor implementation, your storage administrators have to deal with a variety of management consoles, each having its own "efficient" and "friendly" user interface, all of which are slightly different from the others.

Most storage vendors publish APIs that other vendors can use to create applications to automate monitoring or configuration activities, but -- despite effort from companies such as EMC Corp., Fujitsu Softek Technology Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Storage Technology Corp., and Veritas Software Corp. -- a comprehensive storage management system is still a pipe dream.

The good news is that the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is taking this problem very seriously and has garnered the attention and support of some 300 storage vendors on its SMI (Storage Management Initiative) to promote a standard called SMIS (Storage Management Interface Specification).

We first knew this standard as Bluefin; in fact, the core of SMSI remains the Desktop Management Task Force (DMTF)-originated WBEM/CIM (Web-Based Enterprise Management/Common Information Model) standard.

But in addition to changing the name, SNIA is adding some interesting features, including resource locking and auto-discovery of storage devices. These come on the recommendation of the Partner Development Program, a group of storage vendors that also had a hand in defining the soon-to-be-submitted standard.

A common management interface means storage administrators will spend less time jumping between consoles to diagnose problems or change configurations. Vendors will spend fewer development months trying to manage diversity and will free up a lot of their engineers to actually create functions that today's users can only dream about. How does an automated provision system sound? Or a real policy-based management system?

Veritas is already talking about adding the capabilities mentioned above, as well as a predictive failure analysis system. And Sun is set to bring a storage management application -- dubbed StorEdge Resource Management -- with SMI support by year's end. Additionally, SNIA will showcase a working SMI-enabled multivendor SAN at its conference in October.

Most of this won't be in customers' hands for at least another year, but the possibilities are exciting. Just think: Customers might actually see some true storage innovation, and we will have to find something else to write about. Sounds like a win-win-win situation. Do you believe it?

Contact Scott Tyler Shafer at scott_shafer@infoworld.com; contact Mario Apicella at mario_apicella@infoworld.com.

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