SNIA Tackles Metadata

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This week’s announcement that the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is reviewing the proposed Extensible Access Method (XAM) storage interface standard has implications for storage managers as well as the hardware and software vendors that provide products to them.

XAM is a joint storage industry proposal to establish standard interfaces to coordinate information metadata between applications and storage systems. The XAM project began in October 2004 as a collaborative venture of IBM, EMC, HP, Hitachi, and Sun Microsystems. The proposed standard was presented to SNIA in September for review by SNIA’s Fixed Content Aware Storage Solutions (FCAS) Technical Working Group, which unanimously voted to use the XAM contribution to help develop a fixed content programming interface to help with long-term data archiving.

SNIA’s work on the XAM-Interface is expected to simplify the development that software vendors will need to do to build and deliver solutions and applications that require information to be archived for various reasons. According to SNIA, by assigning “standard” metadata, fixed or reference information can be stored in a different way than active or changing information. This metadata and a standard interface are keys to communicating with object storage devices (OSD) and automating information classification, long-term records retention and information security.

Information lifecycle management (ILM) practices are also expected to benefit from work on XAM. Requirements for performance, availability, security, privacy, authentication, long-term online archiving, and so on, can be set and managed via the metadata, empowering ILM-based practice automation.

Jeff Porter, chair of SNIA’s Data Management Forum, sees a long-term effect on end users from the specification work.

“As the XAM-Interface efforts come to fruition in a year to 18 months, early adopters will integrate it and see how it simplifies the process in environments that support heterogeneous enterprises,” he said.

Where a storage manager may now have to support a plethora of products with multiple interfaces, Porter continued, “they will be able to take advantage of a common interface for these products certified to work to make it easier to store, archive and automate their storage migration activities.”

Easing users’ storage migration operations has been a key focus of data and information management efforts. To this end, the first deliverable, an XAM application programming interface, will provide for encapsulating application data, application metadata, and storage services metadata as part of the content record, allowing interoperability between storage systems and applications and automating ILM-based practices.

With the long shelf life of fixed content and the increasing amount of associated regulations, the XAM interface is expected to also assist efforts to preserve content in a self-describing way, and enable applications and records to migrate across and between storage devices and applications.

Porter sees additional XAM work areas within SNIA as the project rolls out. “Right now we have a committee within the Data Management Forum dedicated to the XAM interface and rolling it out across all of the SNIA organization,” he said. “SNIA is looking at a creation of a software developers kit and test products, as well as developing a reference model for use and quick adoption, and a security model.”

Porter noted that SNIA is actively soliciting independent software vendors to join them at the SNIA Symposium Jan. 24 in San Jose, Calif., to begin work with the specification. “This is a great opportunity for storage software developers and marketing executives to bring requirements to the table, help develop tools, and influence the look of what is produced,” he said.

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