The rise of global storage networks has added new urgency to the need for interoperability standards, as far-flung storage resources require more sophisticated and reliable systems and management tools. The surprise is that interoperability is being driven more by marketplace demands than by standards groups.
Industry experts say that in order to manage the complexity of heterogeneous storage infrastructures, vendors must work closely with end users to develop open standards and deliver seamless interoperability across global storage networks.
John Joseph, vice president of marketing at EqualLogic, says interoperability is critical to the virtual data center and the success of storage as its central resource.
That said, Joseph suggests that it may be the market more than the standards process that drives interoperability. "I believe that they will buy and deploy products that are interoperable because that's what works," he says. "Vendors need to listen to what customers say and observe what they are buying and using — and respond accordingly."
John Lallier, vice president of technology at FalconStor, agrees. "Users will not and cannot accept the interoperability issues of the past to continue," says Lallier. "They will recognize and reward vendors who acknowledge that the 'storage island' is dead."
Interoperability also gives vendors a marketing edge — AppIQ, for one, has built its products on the Common Information Model (CIM) and Storage Management Initiative Specification (SMI-S) interoperability standards.
"It is a highly competitive market and smart vendors continue to look for every edge they can get," says Eran Farajun, executive vice president at Asigra.
Farajun says it is the responsibility of vendors' product managers to make their technologies more easily integrated with others' products. "If they ignore this requirement, customers will vote with their purchase orders elsewhere," says Farajun.
He agrees that vendors are not making their products more open to please an industry standards group; they are being forced to do so by customers.
"Global customers by nature purchase different equipment from different vendors," Farajun says. "The vendors that address this customer segment understand that their products must work with other products."
iSCSI Provides a Road Map
Some industry experts believe that interoperability is the key component in efficiently designing, building, and managing global storage networks, making the development of industry-wide standards an essential task. That begs the questions: is the industry effectively moving toward this goal?
Joseph cites iSCSI as an excellent example of an industry-wide standard that enables the efficient design, deployment, and management of enterprise-wide storage networks.
"This past year, we witnessed the growing acceptance and credibility of iSCSI, which originally promised affordable SANs for small and medium-size businesses," says Joseph. "But iSCSI surprised everyone by finding its way into the enterprise."
It has been said that 2002 was the year that hyped iSCSI; 2003 ratified the standard and ushered in the first pure-iSCSI product offerings; and 2004 was the year that Fortune 500 customers gave the new SAN technology a resounding vote of confidence.
"The best of the iSCSI-based systems available in 2004 gave corporate storage managers something they have needed for a long time," says Joseph. As a result, he says, iSCSI storage systems have joined Fibre Channel solutions for primary storage applications, consolidating previously dispersed storage resources, and serving up data to large distributed organizations.
Joseph says the adoption of iSCSI has been unusually rapid because of its immediate impact on storage efficiency and management.
"In just a year, we've seen complete support for all of the major operating systems, a variety of iSCSI host bus adapter (HBA) offerings, multi-pathing solutions, cluster support, SAN boot, enterprise backup integration, and next-generation data services," he says. "Storage system vendors took years to evolve these capabilities with Fibre Channel. Clearly iSCSI has not only leveraged IP networking, it has also built upon its storage heritage to achieve parity with its Fibre Channel cousin so quickly."
'Customers Are Driving This'
Open standards are a must as IT managers seek new solutions to integrate with current equipment infrastructures. Some companies, such as Asigra, have incorporated interoperability lab testing as a matter of practice to ensure that customers or service providers are able to implement solutions to backup and restore painlessly and quickly. Farajun believes that the industry is moving toward this goal because it has no choice. "Customers are driving this with purchase orders loud and clear," he says.
As storage networks continue to grow and span the globe, interoperability will become even more critical.
"Most of the leading vendors recognize that it is in their best interest to standardize interfaces so their products can easily integrate and work within the larger system," says Lallier.
Interoperability consists of more than just making storage devices work together; it must also provide storage administrators with the tools they need to handle the ever-growing amount of data and storage costs. For the vendors who understand these new customer demands and meet them, the future could be bright indeed.
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