Industry Associations - Worthwhile or Worthless?


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Like any other industry, the storage industry has its fair share of associations. And, as with other industries, these associations were created to promote, educate, and expand the quality of the industry. However, while many storage professionals feel that these associations have helped shape the industry, others feel that there is little (if any) value in participating in them because they are merely acting as 'mouthpieces' for their members.

The one issue that most storage professionals and industry associations would most likely agree on is that the biggest issue presently facing the industry is the lack of good storage management standards, and the lack of willingness by all vendors to cooperate. In other words, promoting an open management platform so that all components, regardless, of vendor, can be managed from a single point. On this issue, as with practically any other in the storage industry, there are conflicting opinions as to whether industry associations are doing enough to create technology standards and bring dissenting parties together. There are, though, and increasing number of examples where industry associations are making the difference.

For example, Wayne Adams of EMC feels that the Fibre Alliance Association did step up to the plate in shaping the storage industry when it created technology specifications that enabled heterogeneous SAN management. "The end result of the FA MIB specification," says Adams, "is that all SAN management tools use the FA MIB to perform basic discovery and monitoring of SAN devices. Even though the Fibre Alliance has been dormant since releasing V4.0 of the FA MIB specification, it is relevant today and available in most, if not all, SAN switches, managed SAN hubs, managed SAN bridges/routers, and SAN Management SW products."

Opinions do differ, though. Steven Toole of Precise does not see the value in joining these associations. "As far as (storage associations) shaping the industry, I haven't seen it. Our customers needs are what shapes the industry and we are committed to developing the most effective storage resource management solutions to address those needs, not what some association sub-committee dreams up," he says.

Toole's opinion is not shared by Don Mead of FalconStor who is active in both the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) and the Fibre Channel Industry Association (FCIA). He says that the SNIA is not only promoting standardization within the industry, but by conducting interoperability testing it is allowing various members to work together to come up with solutions and test compatibility between products. "Being a member of an industry associations has enabled FalconStor to work with many companies of today's iSCSI Initiator products (i.e. HBA's) and iSCSI Target Store Devices)," says Mead. With that said, Mead did admit that there is a lot of marketing going on in these associations and says that some of the main reasons he joins them is for networking, relationship building, and market exposure.

In many cases though, industry associations are grabbing the proverbial bull by the horns. In May of this year, the SNIA announced the development of a draft specification that applied CIM/WBEM object technology to create the basis of a complete management solution for interoperable, multi-vendor SANs. "Managing the complexity of SANs has become a key user issue, a problem that is compounded by the multi-vendor environment which most users have," says John Webster of the Data Mobility Group. "Without comprehensive standards for management and testing for interoperability, users will be forced to pay artificially high prices for solutions and as a result, will find it more difficult to achieve the promised value of storage networking," he continued.

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