The future of storage standards

Recently, I packed a bag, fuelled the car and drove a few hours away for a relaxing weekend. After checking in, I went for a shower and plugged my electric razor into the wall for a shave. The dinner and evening were excellent but that is another story...

We give little consideration to the normal things in life. I knew the fuel would work in my car because fuel meets certain standards. The journey itself was fairly safe because drivers follow the same basic standards of road usage (the road rules). Similarly I knew that my razor would plug into the hotel wall, electric plugs (and the electricity itself) being standard.

There are innumerable examples of standards in our everyday life — we give little consideration to how much more difficult life would be without them. Nor do we consider how difficult it can be to reach these standards.

The storage industry is equally dependent on standards, though the route to standards has been somewhat complex. Originally storage was fully tied to the server, with internal interfaces ensuring that only the same vendor’s storage connected to the server. In most cases, the storage was internally installed.

As customer requirements unlocked the server and storage relationship, the capability to use a different sotrage vendor to that of the server evolved. Customers could start to access the best storage technology rather than be limited to the one or two offerings, which only operated correctly with their chosen server. Some of these connections were developed by individual storage vendors, while others were the result of relationships forged between two or three vendors. Eventually, some of these developments became de facto standards that all vendors followed.

In some cases, open forums of developers, users and vendors (many of whom are likely to be in competition) grow into standards bodies. Such open standards add user value and increase an organisation’s flexibility to choose different solutions from different vendors.

Open standards reduce the risk from both portability and interoperability standpoints for companies who choose different vendors’ technologies, and thus let companies select the ‘best of breed’ technology in each aspect of a solution.

With the emergence of networked storage over the last few years, the issues of standards have become greater than ever. The main standards body for networked storage is the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), which has been in existence for about four years. SNIA represents around 80 member vendors and has been responsible for a number of significant standards including the emergence of iSCSI.

Locally, storage industry leaders including EMC, Hewlett-Packard, Legato, Fujitsu, HDS and Computer Associates are on a working committee to introduce the Australian chapter of SNIA. This is expected to be formalised later this year.

Recently SNIA introduced the Common Information Model (CIM) Bluefin open management standard for networked storage, also called the Storage Management Initiative (SMI). The importance of such initiatives cannot be overstated.

Significantly, vendors who invest heavily in research and development will benefit from industry standards. These vendors can develop and integrate their technologies, confident that their products will work in a wide spectrum of solutions. However, the existence of standards does not release vendors from the efforts of testing, qualification and analysis. Would you use an electrical product that had never been tested or qualified for electrical standards?

Notably, standards do not cover all aspects of storage development. Leading vendors will continue to develop and deliver innovative and incremental technologies that address other issues that aren’t addressed by standards. Relationships between vendors will similarly form to address the latest emerging issues.

One day, some of these developments are likely to become the storage standards of the future.

Mark Heers is product marketing manager at EMC Australia and interim chairman of the Australian chapter of SNIA.

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More about CA TechnologiesEMC CorporationFujitsuHDSHewlett-Packard AustraliaStorage Networking Industry Association

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