SNIA Renews Storage Standards Effort

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is taking a more systematic approach to making sundry storage networking technologies work together.

The Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) is taking a more systematic approach to making sundry storage networking technologies work together.

Energized by renewed commitments from its largest members and commitments from other industry heavyweights during an April teleconference, the 18-month-old SNIA ( is starting a Technical Architecture Council. The new SNIA structure is expected to provide direction to the work of the group’s individual committees. SNIA is also looking into creating a neutral testing and certification lab.

"The working groups that are active today [within SNIA] are active because people with common interests got together and pushed them forward," says Brad Stamas, who is interim chairman of the Technical Architecture Council, vice chairman of SNIA’s board and consulting analyst, technologies, at Storage Technology Corp. (StorageTek, The work those groups have done has been important, Stamas says.

But there are areas where enlightened self-interest doesn’t get the work done. That’s where the council comes in. "There is agreement that there needs to be a technical steering function within SNIA, and that’s one of the functions the Technical Architecture Council would have," Stamas says.

How the committee would approach an issue, such as an overarching white paper pinpointing problem areas within the whole storage networking arena, is being ironed out. Stamas expects to get a proposal in front of the SNIA board this month.

At the same time, Roger Reich, an SNIA board member and manager of network storage strategy at Compaq Computer Corp., is spearheading the SNIA’s effort to create a Multi-Vendor Compatibility Testing and Certification Lab.

"The fundamental objective of the lab is to make sure that customers can plug stuff onto a SAN like they plug stuff into general purpose networks," Reich says. "And when they plug that stuff onto a SAN, it really continues to operate like a business critical storage solution."

Reich maintains that larger vendors, such as StorageTek, Compaq and IBM Corp., and smaller vendors have an interest in the project. Larger storage vendors fund and staff their own labs, requiring them to buy, trade or beg for equipment from other companies. Startups and small companies simply can’t afford to do extensive interoperability testing on their own, Reich says.

"We’re going to be the place where the big pile of the latest and greatest hardware is, and people can come and gain access to a lot of configurations that would be cost ineffective for them to test against," Reich says.

Companies could either come in and test equipment for themselves, or they could submit it for certification stamps, Reich says. He hopes to get a proposal before the board in July. While declining to estimate the cost, Reich broadly predicts it will cost "many millions of dollars a year to pull it off."

Analyst Robert Gray with International Data Corp. (IDC, agrees the lab could bring an economic benefit to vendors, but he says the benefit must be substantial to overcome the security and competency advantages of in-house testing. "If it comes down to spending 80 cents at SNIA and a dollar themselves, most companies are going to spend a dollar," Gray says.

Gray also believes SNIA must move quickly. A few years ago the RAID Advisory Board began a seal of approval program. By the time the program was running, he says, the market was maturing to the point that the seals weren’t necessary.

Also at SNIA, the group has formed two new technical working groups: one focusing on storage network component architecture and one for storage container architecture.

Some of the technical efforts SNIA has already worked on include an MIB standard for Fibre Channel switch and hub devices, a CIM definition for network storage component management, a SCSI specification extension that is the backbone for third-party copy capability, an architectural model for disk resource management and a complete set of definitions for network storage terminology.

The announcements about the technical council, the labs and the new working groups were made in late April, following SNIA endorsements by a dozen major vendors during an April 6 teleconference.

Participating hardware vendors included Compaq, Dell Computer Corp., EMC Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., IBM, Quantum Corp., Sequent Computer Systems Inc., StorageTek and Sun Microsystems Inc. Networking and software participants included Brocade Communication Systems Inc., Legato Systems Inc. and Veritas Software.

"We’re taking this enormous mass of the industry, and we’re saying, ‘We’re aligning all the arrows,’" said Darren Thomas, vice president of Compaq’s Multi-Vendor Storage Business Unit, at the teleconference.

IDC’s Gray says getting the vendors together to endorse the SNIA was impressive because of the thorny political issues involved.

"While some of the participants may have had their hand up at the last minute, or come in kicking and screaming, the participation was pretty broad," Gray said. Gray declined to identify which industry representatives he was alluding to.

After the multivendor teleconference, SNIA announced that three new board positions and a vacant position were filled with representatives from Dell, Sun, Hewlett-Packard and a representative of the Fibre Channel Association, which is led by EMC Corp.