Vendors make SAN products play nice together

Lowdown

What is it? SMI-S is the storage management initiative specification. It has been developed by the Storage Networking Industry Association to create a common approach to managing different storage products.

How does it work? SMI-S uses the Common Information Model and Web-based Enterprise Management specifications to create common models for describing storage hardware and management functions. Vendors then write interfaces to let their products share information via these common models.

What's in it for buyers? When SMI-S is fully adopted, buyers won't have to learn entirely new management instructions for different vendors' equipment. They will be able to manage their SAN from one console without being locked in to a single SAN vendor.

What's in it for vendors? SMI-S compliance will let vendors and application developers bring products to market more quickly because they won't have to write interfaces to other vendors' products. Leading storage vendors agree that SMI-S will be good for the industry.

Must-know info? SMI-S will open new avenues for both buyers and sellers of storage products. While its main focus today is on SAN management, it likely will move on to more comprehensive storage management issues, covering network-attached storage and storage over IP.

Association seeks storage management initiative specs for all solutions

The Storage Networking Industry Association is working overtime to sell its storage management solution to vendors, application developers and users.

To date, proprietary systems have made up the bulk of management tools for storage area network users. Buyers are locked into their platforms, which can be frustrating and expensive.

The association is aiming for a set of heterogeneous, multivendor management systems that let both vendors and users simplify tasks with a single approach to SAN management.

Various association task forces spent much of 2002 and 2003 working on various aspects of the storage management initiative specification, referred to as SMI-S. Although a final SMI-S was delayed several times last year, the association expects all of its components to be ratified by June.

The association's goal is that all new storage networking products, such as arrays, switches, extenders, appliances, tape libraries and management software that are produced by member companies will use the specification by next year.

SMI-S builds on Common Information Model and Web-based Enterprise Management specifications created by Distributed Management Task Force Inc. The two specifications work together to form common data models for storage hardware and functions. Vendors then can write interfaces that let their hardware and software share data using these common models.

Theoretically, at least, everybody wins.

"The SNIA SMI-specification will restructure the way that the entire storage industry approaches storage management," said Roger Reich, chairman of the Storage Networking Industry Association's SMI Committee. "Component developers will no longer have to 'push' their unique interface functionality at applications developers. Management application developers will no longer have to integrate incompatible feature-poor interfaces into their products."

According to the association, management application developers will be able to support SMI-S-compliant devices from various vendors quickly and reliably, because they will all look alike under the SMI-S model. Developer and vendor testing costs will drop, and products will get to market more quickly, the association said.

Key storage vendors aren't waiting until 2005 to climb aboard. Hewlett-Packard Co. has invited partner development of technologies based on SMI-S, with the goal of accelerating adoption of SMI-S solutions that foster interoperability and streamlined management of multivendor SANs.

AppIQ Inc., BMC Software Inc., Storability Software Inc. and Veritas Software Corp. have all signed up with HP. IBM Corp. has launched a similar program. Along with HP, EMC Corp. has pledged to incorporate SMI-S into all its SAN hardware and software.

Organizations with heterogeneous SAN environments that use storage products from a variety of vendors won't have to learn a new set of management instructions for each piece of equipment. They will be able to manage an entire SAN from one console using a single management scheme. And they won't be locked to one SAN vendor anymore.

Until SMI-S is firmly set later this year, there are two ways for vendors to achieve compliance. The proxy interface translates existing product interfaces into SMI-S-compliant interfaces. It is quite easy and inexpensive to implement because it doesn't involve significant re-engineering of a product's management interface.

The native interface is built to the SMI-S standard from the beginning, and therefore is already CIM-compliant. This makes it a relatively robust implementation of the CIM model and relatively futureproof.

For these reasons, native SMI-S implementations likely will offer faster delivery of new products and features, better scalability, easier management and lower total cost of ownership, according to the Data Mobility Group, a storage industry research company in Nashua, N.H.

No "pure" SMI-S SAN management programs exist ? not yet, anyway, until the standard is finalized and all vendors are on board. But Data Mobility Group has cited AppIQ's StorageAuthority Suite 3.0 as an example of a pure CIM-built management application that is a native SMI-S program.

Vendors such as BMC, Brocade, Computer Associates International Inc., EMC, Hewlett-Packard, IBM and McData Corp. are expected to go in this direction, too.

The primary goal of SMI-S is to trim the complexity of storage management for vendors, developers and customers by reducing the necessity of having separate management products for each device on the network.

Version 1.0 of SMI-S, already adopted by SNIA, covers basic SAN functions, such as identifying and monitoring the performance of array controllers, switches and host bus adapters. The focus of Version 1.0 is on Fibre Channel connectivity and SANs attached to Microsoft Windows and Unix servers.

Version 1.1, not yet ratified at press time, extends SMI-S support to network-attached storage products, storage over IP and more refined performance statistics support for policy-based administration.

SMI-S, based on the Web-based enterprise management (WBEM) architecture, uses three standards to form a flexible management interface using the Web as an infrastructure: CIM, xmlCIM ? an Extensible Markup Language encoding specification created specifically for CIM ? and HTTP.

One of the core features of WBEM, CIM is an object-oriented language for describing managed elements across the enterprise, including systems, networks and applications. The CIM schema provides definitions for network hardware, peripherals, operating systems and the like and enables the tracking of relationships among them.

CIM Version 2.8, released early this year, provides new classes for storage and also offers modeling for the Java 2 Enterprise Edition environment. In addition, CIM 2.8 introduces the concept of management profiles, supports managing security principals and their authentication policies and privileges, manages IP security policy, and features modeling of the management infrastructure for discovery.

For more information on CIM 2.8 and the activities of DTMF, check out its Web site at www.dtmf.org. A more complete synopsis of SMI-S is on the Storage Networking Industry Association Web site at www.snia.org.

J.B. Miles of Honomu, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at ,a href= "mailto:jbmiles@starband.net">jbmiles@starband.net.

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