Are Interoperability Demos a Hoax? Page 2 -

Are Interoperability Demos a Hoax? Page 2

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No Plug and Play Here

Still, storage area networking is not a plug and play technology. Although standardization improves the chances of compatibility, variations in vendor implementations will always pose potential problems for any customer who strays outside single sourcing. Major vendors who conduct their own interoperability testing and qualifications may produce workable, multi-vendor solutions, but this has never been sufficient for customers who want to leave their options open. Although vendors attempt to satisfy minimal interoperability requirements while maintaining proprietary market differentiation, customers push their vendors towards even greater interoperability and advanced features.

As storage networking continues to evolve, the contradiction between vendor and customer priorities is spinning off additional interoperability issues. Storage virtualization, for example, lacks standardization as well as any immediate promise that one virtualization product will work with another. So while improvements are being made at some levels of infrastructure (e.g. fabric switch compatibility), new layers of compatibility problems are being generated at the top.

Showcase interoperability demonstrations instead represent point-in-time snapshots of the state of the technology. A few years ago, for example, virtualization vendors and IP storage vendors participated in an Emerging Technology zone of the SNW Interop Lab. Now, those vendors are in the mainstream interoperability demos, connecting iSCSI hosts to Fibre Channel storage and virtualizing disk and tape.

Likewise, it took two years before the major fabric switch vendors could stage a true multi-vendor fabric, although subsets of vendors had shown interoperability at previous events. The basic statement of these events is not that customers no longer have to worry about interoperability, but that the vendor community is progressively addressing the issue. At each event, new multi-vendor permutations are on display, giving customers new options for solutions they may implement in their own environments.

The Real Value in Interoperability Demos

The real significance of the interoperability configurations that are staged at SNW and other venues is not that they demonstrate certified solutions that can be readily replicated by a customer, but that interoperability events expose vendors to myriad interoperability issues they need to address. It also exposes the technical and marketing staff of storage vendors to a greater industry community whose collective success is based on cooperation.

SNW demonstrations that began several years ago as frustrating exercises in cat herding are now complex, highly organized events pulled together by SNIA staff and member volunteers. Millions of dollars of equipment and hundreds of technical experts work for months in advance to define and stage solutions that approximate real world storage applications.

And since enrollment in a specific demo is open to any SNIA member, interoperability issues are constantly challenging the teams as new hardware and software products are added. Vendors who have participated in consecutive interoperability events have accumulated valuable experience with their own products as well as other vendors’ products that cannot be gained within the confines of an individual vendor’s lab.

This is the real value of such events for customers, since constant improvement in technical expertise and product interoperability will shorten the time it takes to integrate practical multi-vendor solutions on a customer site. The operative words here are shorten the time. It now takes less time, for example, for my Windows to reboot when a so-called plug-and-play device driver faults. That’s progress.

Tom Clark
Director of Technical Marketing, Nishan Systems
Author: Designing Storage Area Networks Second Edition (2003) (available at, IP SANs (2002) (also available at

» See All Articles by Columnist Tom Clark

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