SAN Interoperability Reigns at Storage Event

If it’s possible for conferences focusing on one all-important, all-encompassing technology sector to have a centralized theme, that theme would be interoperability for the Storage Networking World Fall 2002 event. The summit, running from Oct. 27-30 in Orlando, Fla., will showcase storage networking interoperability in the form of such emerging standards as CIM and Bluefin, or the
Storage Management Initiative (SMI).

What are these schemas and why do we need them? Shepherded by the Storage Networking Industry Association,
Bluefin is an open, vendor-neutral application programming interface
(define) for monitoring and managing devices on a storage area network
(define). It is object-oriented and links application clients with
device management support. That object model is built with the Common Information
Model
(CIM) standard, and a language binding and protocol solution that
employs CIM-XML (CIM operations over HTTP), and Service Location Protocol (SLP). Bluefin goes beyond specifying the object model and documents what needs to be done to achieve
interoperability.

Why we need them is a complicated matter, but vital to the evolution of
storage. There are many players in the data storage and recovery field who
make everything from storage devices and software to fabric switches.
Because most of these vendors employ their own proprietary technologies, the
various hardware and applications don’t mesh with one another. For example,
if you buy a storage cabinet system from, say, EMC, you won’t necessarily be
able to run software from another company on it. This dilemma exists across
the storage networking plain.

This adds up to a piercing migraine for some IT managers who might love the
performance of the EMC cabinet, but may not find the company’s software as
useful as something from, say, IBM. Or perhaps the problem is a pricing
quandary. Either way, the IT manager could be stuck: the hardware and
software from disparate vendors likely won’t work. This has led to outcry
and demand from those whose very job depend of storage systems that work
well and fit into the confines of the company budget. These folks demand
flexible, heterogeneous (define) storage area
networks.

It makes sense, then, that Bluefin was created by an array of leading
storage leaders, including: BMC Software, Brocade Communications Systems,
Computer Associates, Dell Computer Corporation, EMC, Emulex, Gadzoox, HP,
Hitachi, IBM, JNI Corporation, Prisa Networks, QLogic, StorageTek, Sun
Microsystems, and VERITAS Software. After all, there is a lot of money to be
made. Aberdeen Group figures the market for storage management software will
exceed $21 billion by 2005. More generally, Gartner Dataquest estimates some
$41 billion will be spent on storage services worldwide by the same year.

But an interoperability standard such as Bluefin, whose development many in
the industry liken to the SNMP (define) schema for networking, is
still a year or more away from being used with the effectiveness and
frequency that is desired by IT managers. There have been tests and
experiments between companies, but no viable industry uses that any one
company can deliver to its enterprise customers.

API exchanges: foreplay to Bluefin?

What the major systems vendors have done in the meantime to assure customers
of heterogeneous systems, is exchange APIs — the very method by which a
programmer writing an application program can make requests of the operating
system or another application. These exchanges have been plentiful and
recent partnerships were agreed upon between often-bitter rivals HP and
EMC
, HP and
Hitachi
. IBM has exchange agreements with all three of those firms. Just
last week, the firms shook
hands on SANs
for the public’s benefit.

While the nature of the API exchanges may appear symbiotic, analysts will
tell you upon closer inspection that objects in the mirror are not as close
as they appear.

Enterprise Storage Group Senior Analyst Nancy Marrone said the exchange of
APIs was necessary to keep customers happy, but warned not to be fooled by
the nice-nice posturing of the firms.

“You can bet that although they may give up some of the pieces of code, they
won’t give up the important parts,” Marrone said.
“It wouldn’t make sense for these competing vendors not to exchange APIs
because they don’t want to lock themselves out of the market while the
others are doing it. But, there will be X factors. Look for these firms to
deliver some value-adds in the future to differentiate themselves from the
rest of the pack.”

Enterprise Management Associates Senior Analyst Mike Karp agreed.

“The sharing of APIs is tentative,” Karp said. “The
vendors are going about this very gingerly. They agreed to share some, but
not give away key things. In the industry companies, are always willing to
share general ideas, but when it comes to core technologies, it isn’t the
same. There are still core differentiators. That’s the concept of
enlightened self-interest — they share APIs to benefit themselves in the
long haul.

Where do we go from here sweet child o’ mine?

Where indeed? Enterprise Storage Group’s Marrone has some idea about what
happens when CIM and Bluefin-based systems hit the market in a couple of
years.

“CIM and Bluefin are going to neutralize the storage area networking
market,” Marrone predicted. “These standards will absolutely make it easier
to manage multiple arrays and switches. CIM is like SNMP in that if you had
an SNMP platform any router, whether it was Cisco, or someone else, would
work on that platform with minimal configuration. CIM and Bluefin are very
good for storage management.”

Enterprise Management Associates’ Karp had a similar take, but said it is a
tricky proposition.

“With Bluefin, you have a set of specs specifically aimed at trying to
present an open API,” Karp said. “Bluefin defines all interfaces. It offers
a common playing ground that all companies that subscribe to it can have
access to. “It’s a drum that a lot of companies still march to. Yet at the
end of the day, the companies will have the same concern about giving up
their crown jewels end of day; they won’t give up that final set of knobs
that provides differentiation.”

Karp cautioned that it’s not as easy as it sounds, saying “you really have
to dive down almost to the molecular level.”

Is Storage Networking World a pit stop on the path to
interoperability?


Karp had this to say about the Orlando conference next week: “Bluefin will
have its first large-scale public showing there, so this is very
significant.”

Indeed, SNIA member companies will showcase a multi-vendor storage area
network (SAN) managed using a common interoperable interface for SANs being
constructed by the SNIA. The “CIM-SAN”
configuration is comprised of disk arrays, tape libraries, switches, host
bus adapters, routers, NAS appliances, virtualizers, and storage management
software. Zone management, volume management, LUN masking/mapping, asset
management, and status monitoring using clients and servers will be the
tasks exercised by CIM-SAN.

While some open source tools and infrastructure components are now available
that will allow vendors to implement CIM/WBEM technology in products, many
of the companies participating in the CIM-SAN demonstration are planning to
ship CIM/WBEM-enabled products later this quarter and early next year.

EMC Director of Software Marketing George Mele, and Doug Cahill Vice
President Business Development and Strategy at storage software upstart AppIQ, all spoke about what attendees can
expect at the conference.

Mele told internetnews.com EMC will incorporate the SMI specification
into the EMC WideSky Developers Suite. EMC plans to release SMI-enabled
WideSky Software Developer Kits (SDKs) in 2003.

“It is our full intention to adopt CIM when it matures,” Mele said. “It
makes the architecture very nice and having this middleware mixture of CIM
APIs go with it gives us choices. Every Widesky enabled app pushes CIM.”

As for developments he’d like to see at SNW, Mele said he’d like to know
just folks are writing CIM on the hardware side of things.

Cahill, whose AppIQ launched earlier this week, said his firm will
demonstrate CIM-compliant storage resource management software that enables
storage vendors to shorten development and reduce costs associated with
delivering CIM-based products. AppIQ’s CIMIQ platform is available to
storage vendors interested in accelerating the development of CIM-compliant
products. AppIQ also launched an associated partner program with such
charter members as Brocade, Hitachi Data Systems, LSI Logic Storage Systems,
Network Appliance, and Sun Microsystems.

“We’re about lowering cost of ownership,” Cahill said. “For every dollar spent on acquiring stored data,
it costs $8 to manage it.”

AppIQ wasn’t born as a card-carrying CIM fan. Cahill said AppIQ revisited
CIM and found the spec had matured. So, the company swears by it.

“It was pragmatic,” Cahill explained. “So we flipped a bit. Now we are
positioning ourselves as the Red Hat for CIM.”

Pragmatic indeed. The may be one of the buzz words used to describe the
interoperability standards demonstrated next week at Storage Networking
World Fall 2002.

This story originally appeared on internetnews.com.

Clint Boulton
Clint Boulton
Clint Boulton is an Enterprise Storage Forum contributor and a senior writer for CIO.com covering IT leadership, the CIO role, and digital transformation.

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