Standards of Storage Architecture

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Vendors and users met face to face in April at the annual Storage Networking World (SNW) conference, the largest computer storage event of its kind in the world. The conference offered users more than 100 educational sessions, as well as a chance to network and interact with both peers and the industry’s top solution providers.



Speakers giving presentations included technology vice presidents from companies such as NBC, XM Satellite Radio and eHarmony.



Lucas Mearian, an organizer of the conference, as well as storage editor at Computerworld (the publication that sponsors the event) said he sees the exchange of ideas between vendors and users as the most productive aspect of the conference.



“The goal of the conference from the standpoint of the users is just to get together and talk about problems,” Mearian said. “By being able to bring their beefs to the table and by sharing information between it managers, there’s no quicker way to find a solution to a problem. Of course, the conference as a whole is built to bring vendors and users and specific workshops together to help them. In the end, the biggest benefit of this conference is that users get together and share ideas.”



Standards and initiatives are among the more talked-about topics of the conference because many storage problems have to do with software compatibility. It is on this topic that Mearian sees the most interaction between the user and vendor.



“At almost every SNW, the issue of interoperability comes up — your product doesn’t work with this software, this hardware doesn’t work with this hardware,” he said. “Because storage is such a niche market, they tend to have a bigger problem with interoperability than any other aspect of IT. It’s an excellent forum for users to be able to talk to their vendors and say, ‘Look, you’re not addressing this issue,’ because oftentimes, they can’t through other channels.”



The extensible access method (XAM) is one of the three standards being developed to deal with that issue.



XAM is a new set of applications interfaces designed to enable different storage systems to communicate with one another. It will enable access to heterogeneous storage environments and allow data about an object to copy what’s there, as well as make decisions to move data through storage tiers, depending on its information life cycle management.



Mearian said this attribute will make XAM a standard once the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) reviews it for release.



“You can’t really understand what data’s important and what data isn’t important other than age, or some keyword searches, unless you know where it came from and who owned it in the first place,” Mearian said. “I think XAM is going to have a larger industry impact because it affects application vendors, as well as storage vendors. This creates an interface between the application servers and the back-end storage.”



The other two standards most often discussed at the conference build on existing ideas and technologies to make interoperability between storage systems a reality.



Fiber Channel Over Ethernet (FCOE) would directly link the Fiber Channel Protocol Over Ethernet, as well as enable storage network traffic to be transferred over local area networks while allowing companies to continue using their existing fiber channel infrastructure.



By combining a specific transport protocol such as fiber channel with a less expensive, popular technology such as Ethernet will allow for a reliable storage network with administrators already trained.



Introduced by IBM, Aperi is an open-source initiative designed to create multiple open-source storage management software components. It is being developed under the Eclipse Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on the greater needs of the storage industry.



Because it is open source, users can manipulate the code as they wish to improve its function, something Mearian and others think will duplicate other successful open-source programs as long as all the vendors contribute.



“Over time, as more and more programmers add code to

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