New forum offers better accountability for SANs

In an effort to improve vendor accountability for customers managing heterogeneous SANs (storage area networks), six leading storage companies on Monday pledged to work together to provide SAN service and support as members of the Supported Solutions Forum, a new effort from the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA). EMC, Compaq, Brocade Communication Systems, Hitachi Data Systems, IBM, and McData make up the founding members of the new SNIA forum, according to Brenda Christensen, a member of the SNIA board of directors.

Popularized by the rapidly growing storage demands of many companies, SANs have traditionally been complex network systems that were difficult to connect across multivendor platforms.

"This announcement today is in fact finally a closing of the book on vendors who no longer will cooperate or agree to work together," Christensen said.

The founding member companies will offer SAN customers a variety of tested, heterogeneous SAN configurations, running their individual storage system products off of a single, shared Fibre Channel connection, Christensen said.

One setup will use Brocade SilkWorm Fabric Switches while the other will use McData ED-5000 directors. Each vendor's storage system and its associated servers will be partitioned off from another vendor's storage system and linked through a shared Fibre Channel connection.

Until now, the chances of a SAN user being able to have one host interface talk to several different storage products were next to none, said analyst Nick Allen, vice president and research director at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc., in a statement. This is a step in the right direction for "true fabric interoperability," he said.

Christensen said the most important feature of the SNIA forum is that each of the six founding members have "signed a corporate support agreement to streamline customer support."

This means SAN customers having problems with their storage networks will no longer have to know what component of their heterogeneous SAN is giving them the problem. Instead, SAN customers using a SAN configured through the SNIA forum will simply contact any of the six vendors and have the problem taken care of on first call.

For example, even if the SAN problem is not the fault of a Brocade switch, Brocade support will take the support call from the SAN customer and make sure that a repair schedule is initialized.

Steve Duplessie, a senior analyst at the Enterprise Storage Group Inc. in Milford, Mass., believes the SNIA forum is the program SAN customers have been waiting for.

"This is not a paper tiger," Duplessie said. "What [SAN] customers have wanted as much as interoperability is accountability. [With the SNIA forum], any vendor they call, even if it's not that vendor's product, will have to take action. They may not be stuck with the fix, but they have to take action."

Duplessie said the founding members of the SNIA forum were already "the major [storage] interoperability vendors," and that the noticeable absence of companies like Hewlett-Packard and Sun was a result of closed storage practices by HP and Sun.

"The reason Sun and HP are not here is they are used to providing storage for their own [platforms] and are not ready for this," Duplessie said.

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