FCIA Takes Up SAN Interoperability Challenge

Interoperabilityin terms of SANs is considered something of a crapshoot. Getting product A toconsistently match up with system B can be something of an adventure. With SANsconsidered by most industry experts as the future of data storage, systemsmanagers can’t afford to experience this adventure much longer.

The FibreChannel Industry Association (FCIA, www.fibrechannel.org)is attempting to address the problem, at least in that realm of connectivity.Last month the FCIA announced its SANmark Qualification and Trademark LicensingProgram, which is designed to help Fibre Channel manufacturers or independentlaboratories verify product compliance among vendors. Certified vendors will beofficially “SANmarked,” which will be a signal to end users that product A willwork with Fibre Channel-operated system B.

Thechallenge, as with all certification programs, is getting the industry playersto join in.

“The factthat yet another consortium or group is attempting to establishing industrystandards for storage is not news,” says Steve Duplessie, an analyst with theEnterprise Storage Group (www.enterprisestoragegroup.com).“These standards were necessary two-and-a-half years ago. Certainly the FCIAhas clout in the field, but it all comes down to getting the vendors to playnice.”

The FCIA isgiving association members six weeks to look at any SAN issues they may haveand provide input before it issues formal guidelines. But the process will beongoing. David Deming, president of FCIA, says the guidelines that willinitially be issued could change dramatically within in six months.

“Thisprogram has been about two years in development,” Deming says. “It’s been achallenge. Like with any qualification program, the final 5 percent of thoseinvolved are the hardest ones to win over. We continue to listen to allconcerns and elevate them to the proper channels. We’re confident the programwill be accepted.”

Demingbelieves the perception that interoperability is a problem with SANs isinaccurate in terms of Fibre Channel products. He said Fibre Channel standardshave been around for more than a decade. The problem has been getting allparties to follow them.

“If youreally examine the vast majority of interoperability problems, you’ll find thatit’s usually not interoperability at all,” Deming says. “It’s usually thatsomeone hasn’t followed the rules [when creating a product]. Somebody hasignored a standard and a problem has arisen. Interoperability really hasn’tbeen an issue with people who know what they’re doing. We’d really like peopleto understand that what we’re talking about is not really the issue ofinteroperability, but some bad products out on the market that need to befixed.”

Duplessiesays the need for these standards in certification form has been voiced loudand clear from the storage community. Perhaps its taken something like theannouncement of an inter-switch routing protocol at the Fibre Channel StandardsWork Group meeting in June to get the ball rolling. The reason such anannouncement might make a difference is because major players like BrocadeCommunications Systems Inc. (www.brocade.com)played a key role in developing the protocol.

“We’refinally in a situation where it’s in the best interest of a stated king likeBrocade for something like this to come to pass,” Duplessie says. “If theindividual vendors start to feel that kind of heat, they’ll feel the need towork together. If a program like this has nothing behind it, it ends up beingjust another press release. But certainly interoperability helps everyone.”

 As far as the entire storage community, thereis still a substantial portion married to Ethernet. It has not been determinedwhether Fibre Channel or Ethernet with Internet Protocol will be the future ofenabling network storage. Throw in the continued strength of the NetworkAttached Storage (NAS) market, which has some people wondering if SANs are asure thing after all.

“Anythingthat comes out as far as Ethernet goes will be newly developed, while FibreChannel has been an industry standard for 12 years,” Deming says. “Yes, the NASmarket has grown, but nothing like the growth of Fibre Channel and SANs. AndFibre Channel already has entered into gigabit technology. I’d say anycompeting technology has to go where Fibre Channel has already been.”

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