The release of the Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) may hold the key changing all of this.
Back in 2002, the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) developed SMI-S to address the interoperability management concerns for storage networks. The basic intent of SMI-S is to make it easier for the hardware and software from different storage vendors to work together.
The specification seeks to replace the disparate protocols and transport technologies from multiple vendors with common models and common protocols, making it easier for developers to support devices from other vendors and, in turn, reduce the time to market for their products. The end result is a common management interface for network components that decreases the complexity of SAN management.
SMI-S is based on existing standards such as the Common Information Model (CIM), which describes the management requirements and capabilities of systems, and Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM), which specifies how they should be used. SMI-S includes common interoperable and extensible management transport, automated discovery, and resource locking.
What this all means is that when a new SMI-S component is introduced to a SAN, it will announce who it is and what it can do, and will then be able to properly share its resources with multiple entities.
The Advantages of a Common Management Standard
Moving towards a common management standard has clear advantages, especially in heterogeneous computing environments where storage products from a variety of vendors are used. Essentially, with SMI-S it will no longer be necessary to learn new management tools or procedures when different storage manufacturers’ components are added to the network. SMI-S will make it possible to manage network components from a single console using the same methods as any other component on the network.
The advantages of the SMI-S management interface are evident for both vendors and end users alike. As far as end users are concerned, SMI-S provides the ability to integrate multi-vendor enterprise resources that can be shared and more efficiently utilized, while at the same time offering increased flexibility, manageability, and reliability.
As far as vendors are concerned, an industry-wide adoption of SMI-S can have a significant impact. Today, one of the problems facing developers of storage management applications is that they must focus their attention on integrating the incompatible interfaces of multiple device vendors. It should come as no surprise that these vendors vary greatly in terms of protocols, transport technologies, security mechanisms, etc., making the integration that much more difficult. This all results in a slower time to market for new devices as well as for updated features on current devices.
In contrast, SMI-S provides storage vendors with the ability to isolate their development efforts using a single standard interface. With the distraction of multi-vendor compatibility out of the way, vendors can see improved time-to-market, more efficient delivery of product and updates, and increased robustness by eliminating the need to develop and integrate disparate and proprietary interfaces.
"For an independent software vendor like Storability, SMI-S has the potential to greatly simplify software development and support efforts, while at the same time extending the scope of Global Storage Manager’s support for applications and storage devices," says Eric Bart, VP of Engineering, Storability.
With the advantages that SMI-S offers, it seems poised to become an integral part of the storage picture. However, as Bart identifies, some concerns remain. "What concerns me about developing to support the SMI-S standard is that most of the value-add functionality provided by ISVs will be provided as 'extensions,' which may mean in the long run that SMI-S becomes just another proprietary API that we must support."
SMI-S in Summary
A storage network is comprised of both the physical hardware and the applications designed to manage that hardware. Traditional storage networks have often been complex in terms of multi-vendor component management. SMI-S is designed to ensure that the management of storage networks functions as efficiently as possible to mask this administrative complexity.
If SMI-S can be widely adopted in the storage industry, it is destined to simplify the way the industry approaches management. The development of a single, interoperable management interface is a natural progression and seems long overdue. While SMI-S isn’t the first to promise interoperability, it certainly has momentum behind it, and if it lives up to its promise, will enable the integration of components from multiple vendors quickly and reliably. Further, SMI-S can reduce development and testing costs and increase end user satisfaction.