SNIA announced at the Spring 2004 Storage Networking World Conference that the first products had passed SMI-S conformance testing. We thought we'd check with a company that's run their products through the testing to see what's in it for enterprise storage users. After all, storage users have big connectivity and management challenges to solve, and soon, so they can't afford to try too many different solutions before finding the right one.
So after learning the details of the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) SNIA-Conformance Testing Program (SNIA-CTP), we sought out Julie Ryan, manager of alliances for Engenio (formerly LSI Logic Storage Systems). The SMI-S Provider from Engenio lets users integrate storage devices with a variety of management tools, and has passed the SMI-S SNIA-CTP.
Enterprise Storage Forum (ESF): We saw some pretty excited vendors at the news conference announcing the first CTP-compliant products. What's in it for your customers?
Julie Ryan (JR): With the SMI-S SNIA-CTP release, we are witnessing a major milestone after four years of standards development toward helping storage administrators alleviate the pain points of managing multi-vendor storage infrastructures. Now, with the SNIA-CTP, there is assurance that over 100 storage devices have properly implemented the SMI-S standard.
We can now provide a stable and validated standard access methodology for software vendors to take advantage of Engenio's premium storage features. Without the SMI-S, software vendors spent a long time assimilating our Application Programming Interface (API) code for each array system generation to work with their software application. Work was further complicated with integration requirements for the proprietary integration of each vendors' storage device. The SMI-S makes it so much easier to develop software management functionality across a broader hardware base. In essence, this means that customers are going to see more storage management products faster to market, and with more features.
ESF: That brings to mind the concern about "plain vanilla" products developed for the lowest common denominator. Will customers see a more limited range of features to select from if vendors are developing within the limits of a specification?
JR: Customers will see just the opposite, because a common base recipe has been established for the majority of reasons storage hardware and applications need to communicate. We are seeing more integration work underway with SMI-S than from all of the previous years using proprietary APIs. Since applications do not have to integrate to a different API for each storage device, there will be more time to create features and deliver higher-level functions. Instead of plain vanilla, the user will see a wide range of flavors that integrate more products and have more active management capabilities.
ESF: Engenio works with strategic partners, OEMs, and alliances to develop storage solutions. Will SMI-S compliance hinder work with those partners, or will it help Engenio work with more vendors and developers?
JR: Because SMI-S covers the basic operations needed for the day-to-day administrative activities, it is enabling us to work toward a broader base of products, more active management capabilities, and a wider range of features that our OEM partners can offer. For example, before SMI-S, heterogeneous management products essentially only did discovery and error reporting. Now, because of what's covered in the SMI-S, product developers are concentrating on LUN mapping, snapshot, and other higher-level feature offerings. SMI-S broadens our support base of partner solutions by simplifying the integration effort. A proprietary API was good for managing one device or one client application, not for integrating an application to many hardware products.
ESF: It sounds like a large investment in infrastructure is needed to test this broader base. Where are you able to get together with your alliance partners to work on SMI-S compliance?
JR: The SMI-Lab at the SNIA Technology Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado has been valuable for development. Engenio has been able to test our SMI-S Provider with other hardware providers and software management clients as we work toward common integration of our products. Our philosophy has been to have our SMI-S Provider fully functional and as solid as possible. We want management applications to fit and work with our product early on, so we cover everything in the specification. And, to make it easy for our alliance partners, we post our SMI-S Provider code on our website at lsilogicstorage.com/tech/smis_provider.html. Our alliance partners can optionally license to include it in their product bundle.
ESF: So it looks like new SMI-S compliant products will be faster out of the gate if your code is available to your alliance partners. But what about customers who have spent a lot of money installing products, including Engenio products, from the pre-SMI-S era? What happens to Engenio legacy products?
JR: Great observation. We have a huge incentive to be sure our code works on many generations of our storage systems. You've probably heard of a proxy, which is a mechanism to represent hardware devices to management applications. By releasing our SMI-S Provider code as a proxy or object code that can be attained from our website, we can support multiple generations of our storage products in one piece of code. Our first proxy supports the current generation of products, one generation earlier, and an upcoming next generation. We've incorporated proxy support in our first SMI-S compliant products to give our customers a three-generation-wide range of supported products to select from. Also, by using a proxy, we can turn code more quickly and keep up with the evolving SMI specification — important at this point in time.
ESF: How are Engenio developers trained on SMI?
JR: We have from four to six developers working on the SMI-S Provider. They went through the SNIA Developers course for SMI-S last year (snia.org/smi). Our developers evaluated the course experience as "intense, great to have." As new developers are assigned to the project, they go through the course at the SNIA Technology Center, which has recently evolved into three separate, more targeted courses (http://www.snia.org/tech_center/institute/). Developers can participate at the level of their interest. Our developers also learn from the hands-on experience at the SNIA Technology Center SMI-Lab. The SMI-Lab provides a fabulous atmosphere to collaborate with other developers working toward a common goal of integrating products.
ESF: We've heard a number of analysts talk about storage as a "utility." How does the testing program help enterprise users work toward a "utility" model of connectivity and availability for their storage?
JR: One storage administrator joked about his life in the data center being a combination of two movies: "Armageddon" and "Groundhog Day." We're just getting so much more information to store, protect, and manage that it is simply an explosive environment. We live everyday trying to maintain capacity and keep our business data protected while trying to accomplish the ultimate task of using information for a competitive advantage.
These challenges are why the storage industry is working toward providing storage and data protection on an "as needed," or utility, basis. In order for applications to request a copy of data or more capacity in a simplified manner, it is imperative to integrate storage resources with business and management applications. This can only realistically be accomplished on a broad scale of devices and applications if there is a standard method for storage hardware and software applications to communicate. This is the essence of the SMI-S standard — to provide a standard way for storage devices and applications to communicate. The CTP provides the validation and enforcement for this standard of communication. We're confident that with the SMI-S standard and SNIA-CTP, applications will become more fully featured in requesting the storage resources needed to simplify the life of the challenged data center administrator.