Storage at the next level

The SMI-S standard, expected to be approved by June, will put teeth into SAN management

The Storage Networking Industry Association is working overtime to sell its Storage Management Initiative Specification to vendors, application developers and users of storage management solutions.

To date, proprietary systems have made up the bulk of management tools for users of storage area networks. Buyers are locked into their platforms, which can be frustrating and expensive. SNIA 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 SNIA task forces spent much of 2002 and 2003 working on aspects of 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.

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

Working together

SMI-S builds on existing Common Information Model (CIM) and Web-based Enterprise Management (WBEM) specifications created by the Distributed Management Task Force Inc. The two specifications work together to create common data models for storage hardware and functions. Vendors can then 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 SNIA 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 SNIA, management application developers will be able to support SMI-S-compliant devices from multiple 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 the adoption of SMI-S-based products that foster interoperability and streamlined management of multivendor SANs.

AppIQ Inc., BMC Software Corp., 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 their entire SAN from a single console using a single management scheme. And, they won't be locked in to a single SAN vendor anymore.

See the accompanying chart on Page 68 for a listing of 29 SMI-S products.

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

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 future-proof.

For these reasons, native SMI-S implementations will likely 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.

Are there any 'pure' SMI-S SAN management programs out there? Not yet, and there won't be until the standard is finalized and all vendors are on board. But Data Mobility Group has cited AppIQ Inc.'s StorageAuthority Suite 3.0 as an example of a pure CIM-built management application that is in effect 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 reduce 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.

Extending support

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 WBEM architecture, uses three core standards to form a flexible management interface using the Web as an infrastructure: CIM, xmlCIM'an XML encoding specification created specifically for CIM'and HTTP.

As 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, etc. 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 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 the DTMF, check out its Web site at www.dtmf.org. A more complete synopsis of SMI-S is on the SNIA Web site at www.snia.org.

J.B. Miles of Honomu, Hawaii, writes about communications and computers. E-mail him at jbmiles@starband.net.

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