Sun’s Jiro Specification to Enhance SAN Management

In February, Sun Microsystems Inc. (www.sun.com) took the first step toward its goal of developing a networkcentric management framework for enterprise storage of all types. The company released its much-anticipated Jiro specification for public review.

Jiro may provide important enhancements to storage management in all environments, but many industry watchers say the technology could be a boon for management and interoperability in the burgeoning storage area network (SAN) space.

Sponsored under the auspices of Sun, the Jiro platform is actually the result of an industrywide initiative launched in December 1998. The goal was to deliver a solution that enables interoperability and platform-independence for the management of just about anything -- storage subsystems, servers, applications, devices, among others -- connected to a network.

As envisioned by Sun and a number of vendors with ties to the storage networking industry, Jiro will provide developers with an open environment for creating and deploying storage management services. Based on Sun's Java technology, Jiro will be repackaged as the Federated Management Architecture (FMA) upon its 1.0 release.

In addition to providing a standard API through which developers can create more manageable, storage-aware applications and services, Jiro also establishes a framework that traditional network management suites, such as OpenView from Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP, www.hp.com) and UniCenter TNG from Computer Associates Int'l Inc. (www.cai.com), can leverage, as well.

"Jiro is trying to provide a framework that storage vendors can support. In this case it will supply the underlying framework that all of the network management tools could use to provide comprehensive management of these devices," explains Said Rahmani, senior vice president at SAN specialist Pathlight Technology Inc. (www.pathlight.com).

It is in the SAN space that Jiro's need is most acute. According to Carolyn DiCenzo, an analyst with GartnerGroup's Dataquest (www.dataquest.com) unit, because SAN is such an immature technology, there is a corresponding lack of robust management tools for heterogeneous SAN environments.

"It is a very immature market, but there are some things out there. There are some tools that are out there for doing pulling of disks and managing the pulling," DiCenzo says. "They're point products right now, but there's enough out there to show the promise. They're mainly homogeneous tools, but you'll start to see the platforms expanding and the tools getting more robust."

The unveiling of Jiro -- rather FMA 1.0 -- will be an important first step in the effort to engineer more robust, cross-platform SAN management tools, says Denise Shiffman, director of content services at Sun's network storage division.

"The key behind Jiro is to really help move SANs along because, generally, the problem that customers are having is managing those kinds of [SAN] environments," she maintains. "Customers say they want to have their storage in one place where they can manage it. But once you put a SAN in place, the problem becomes almost entirely one of management because the technology is so young and there aren't any really robust management standards."

In late October, the Jiro platform expert group -- which includes storage networking heavyweights Exabyte Corp. (www.exabyte.com), Legato Systems Inc. (www.legato.com), and Quantum Corp. (www.quantum.com) -- gave Jiro technologies their first public test run at Storage Networking World, an annual trade show sponsored by the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA, www.snia.org).

In the past, SNIA had been accused of dragging its feet on SAN management and interoperability issues. So much so, that in early 1999 storage giant EMC Corp. (www.emc.com) launched a rival effort, which it dubbed the Fibre Alliance (www.fibrealliance.org). Both SNIA and the Fibre Alliance thus far have worked to enhance SAN interoperability and manageability. They defined a series of management information bases (MIB) similar to those used by SNMP tools in the network management space to provide high-level information about network devices.

Far from being simply another SAN management specification, however, Sun's Shiffman says Jiro and the eventual FMA operate on a higher-level tier than the proposed MIBs of either SNIA or the Fibre Alliance. Consequently, she observes, Jiro can provide a comprehensive framework in which to leverage the management information provided by these MIBs.

"[Both SNIA and the Fibre Alliance] are working down in the SNMP MIB layer, and Jiro is above that. Jiro is in the management service area where it's how you use, react, and respond to that data. Jiro sits above the MIB," she explains.