Brocade plays it safe

By next year, building SRM (storage resource management) applications should become an easier task, thanks to a new standard that recently began its development path within the T11.5 technical subcommittee of the International Committee for Information Technology Standards (INCITS).

The T11.5 assigned name for this new project is Fabric Application Interface Standard (FAIS), and it proposes, as you may easily guess, to define standard APIs to access information from Fibre Channel switches, which now carry proprietary software interfaces developed by each manufacturer. Interestingly, the new standard aims to cover, in addition to switches, other connectivity devices and is not limited to Fibre Channel.

Brocade, which is the proponent of the new standard, has made available its XPath APIs to the standard body. As you may remember, XPath aims to simplify developing applications hosted on Brocade SilkWorm Fabric Application Platform. Bob Snively, principal engineer at Brocade, is confident that moving from XPath to FAIS will be smooth sailing.

One might argue that Brocade has an obvious interest in facilitating programmatic access to fabric switches. However, this unprecedented proposal to standardize a very critical aspect of SAN administration has captured the attention of other major and potentially competing vendors, such as Cisco/Andiamo and McData.

I am not surprised: Creating standard APIs won't equalize the features of different network gears, but sure is a safer bet than alternative approaches (reverse engineering, specific programming for each device) that hold the promise of minimizing development cost for vendors and reducing administrative headaches for users.

Therefore, although vendors may have to debate and reconcile discordant approaches within the T11.5 committee, the resulting benefits of normalized behavior promised by FAIS should be significant for all parties involved and, probably most important, for customers.

In fact, judging from the initial objectives of the project (which may be changed or others added as the discussion evolves), FAIS should give developers a common, cross-vendor interface to simplify various critical SAN management tasks, including volume allocations, managing zones (the logical segments of a fabric), and the discovery of the names and the topology of a fabric.

If you are wondering what the big fuss about FAIS is, think again. After all, we are able to do these things today -- although with some bumps when crossing vendor lines – by using applications running on server or storage devices. Nevertheless, the currently accepted trend is to position storage network management at the hearth of the network rather than in a decentralized host or array ghetto. After all, storage is the network.

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