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A leading commentator on the storage industry recently wrote that interoperability demonstrations such as those staged at Storage Networking World (SNW) conferences have little practical value for customers. After SAN management issues, interoperability is still the second leading concern for end users of shared storage technologies, and although showcase interoperability demonstrations express a high degree of cooperation between vendors, things are often quite different on a customer site when Product A has difficulty working with Product B.
As the poet T.S. Elliot wrote, between the idea and the reality falls the shadow. Between the ideal of harmonious and seamless interoperability and the reality of product compatibility conflicts, there are often long and dark shadows that unfortunately fall on vendors and customers alike. But are interoperability demonstrations really a hoax, perpetrated by unscrupulous vendors to deceive gullible end users, or are interoperability issues an inevitable consequence of a new technology halfway on its road to maturity?
The sad fact is there's almost always a bit of fraud on the part of a few vendors as well as sincere commitment by many others when it comes to showcase interoperability demonstrations. Generally, however, vendors with hidden or open competitive agendas do not fair well in interoperability demos and are forced to either adopt the culture of peer cooperation or withdraw from these events. Since interoperability demonstrations require a commitment of valuable assets and technical expertise, the vast majority of participants attempt to leverage the events to identify actual interoperability issues and to highlight their commitment to open systems.
SNIA's Interoperability Committee Spurs Evolution of Demos
Most vendors recognize that continued interoperability problems are retarding the widespread adoption of SANs, particularly by mid-tier enterprises. Several years ago, this recognition resulted in the creation of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Interoperability Committee, which I previously co-chaired with Sheila Childs of Legato.
The Interoperability Committee has evolved over time and is now responsible for showcase interoperability demonstrations, interoperability events at the SNIA Technology Center in Colorado Springs, and the Interoperability Committee Test Compliance program that is providing standards-compliance test suites for new technologies such as iSCSI. The initial showcase interop demos were fairly small, with fewer than a dozen vendors participating. Today’s SNW interop demonstrations are multi-million dollar affairs, with typically 40 or 50 vendors in various application-specific configurations.
Although interoperability demonstrations cannot duplicate all the permutations of products that a real customer may wish to deploy, they do force cooperation between various vendors that otherwise might not ever connect their products. Since participation is open, even small vendors have the opportunity to participate with mainstream vendors. In the normal course of vendor-sponsored interoperability qualification, by contrast, a small vendor may never see the interior of a major vendor’s qualification lab.
Likewise, although Fibre Channel switch vendors do intensive testing of other vendors’ switches for competitive reasons, showcase interoperability events encourage them to stage multi-vendor configurations in the open. Whether a customer is a single-vendor shop or has inherited an eclectic mix of equipment through mergers or acquisitions, the interoperability being shown at a conference or trade show is at least a guideline for what products have actually worked together.