SNIA publishes storage interoperability standard

After years of foot-dragging by vendors reluctant to write their management software to standards, the storage industry has come together around an open management software interface that promises to help users view and more centrally control enterprisewide storage-area networks (SAN).

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA), which represents about 300 vendors, yesterday announced at Storage Networking World that it has published for public comment Version 1.0 of the Storage Management Initiative (SMI), a 350-page specification formerly known as Bluefin.

The SMI specification includes the use of two related specifications: an object-oriented storage management framework called the Common Information Model (CIM), and Web-Based Enterprise Management, which defines an interface layer for sharing CIM data between products.

SNIA Chairman Sheila Childs immediately called on hundreds of users during an afternoon presentation at the conference to insist that their vendors make software SMI-compliant. Jerome Wendt, a senior information analyst at payment services giant First Data, said he's already considering making SMI-compliance a purchasing requirement for his procurement group.

"Right now, it's very difficult for me to gather the information I need (on my SAN)," he said. "In most of my applications, I don't need the level of detail that vendor application programming interfaces (API) provide. I just need a baseline to start with."

Once greater numbers of vendors adopt the specification, Wendt said his company's business units will be able to make some of their own technology purchasing decisions based on whether the products are SMI-compliant.

SMI will provide a set of common APIs to which vendors can write management software that will allow interoperability between different vendor management programs, analysts said.

Wayne Rickard, chairman of the SNIA Technical Council, said SMI won't completely eliminate the need for API swaps between vendors for certain proprietary features such as remote troubleshooting capabilities. But the standard will eliminate swaps for more generic functions such as volume management, carving up storage for pools and performing application fail-overs.

"Those things are common to everybody, and we should have one way to do that," Rickard said.

Many software and hardware companies are already shipping -- or have announced that they will begin shipping this year -- CIM-compliant products. Those companies include IBM, EMC, Hitachi Data Systems, Sun Microsystems and Veritas Software.

Joel White, business technologist and storage architect at Allstate Insurance, said that once SMI is adopted by his vendors, he will be able to pool storage behind a single management application. "That's going to help us ensure our investment in legacy hardware and make it more available," he said. "Any time we can normalize processes, we can shrink our costs."

The comment period will last for 45 days. After that, Childs said, the preliminary release of the standard will occur in July and the final release is expected to happen sometime in October, but very little is expected to change between now and then.

Childs said SNIA is "tremendously interested in getting user feedback" on the new specification. Users can weigh in by visiting the SNIA Web site.

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