SNIA standardizes storage struggles

Standardization is the last line of defense for many enterprise firms in the battle against vendor lock-in; however, the time taken to formulate product standards, for the early adopters, is risky.

We asked Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) Australian and New Zealand vice chairman Clive Gold about how standards, and standard-based products, free enterprise firms from being locked into using proprietary technologies for years to come.

What does SNIA hope to achieve with storage standardization?

SNIA’s goal is to accelerate the ‘time to value’ of adopting networked Storage.

Can standardization directly/indirectly reduce storage product costs? How?

“Standardization reduces the cost of storage for vendors and end users. Vendors lower their development time and/or cost by using the standards instead of reinventing interfaces, as well as being able to [diversify] their products. Vendors can also focus their resources on developing value-added and differentiated features. Customers gain from increased competition due to the openness of the market as well as from standards driving lower training and implementation costs.”

Are standards widely recognized by vendors and customers; i.e. do customers look for standardized products and do vendors seek the accreditation?

In general as markets and technologies mature, customers demand standards. Although the field of storage networking is relatively young, the goal of SNIA is to accelerate this effort. SNIA as an independent body established to drive these standards has been growing since its inception, demonstrating the demand and the support for standards such as the storage management interface standard (SMI-S).

A Gartner analyst suggested while standards keep up with most storage technologies, they struggle to keep pace with emerging technologies, especially with proprietary features and functions. Is this a concern for SNIA and storage product consumers?

What Gartner called ‘proprietary features and functions’ is what vendors call ‘differentiation’. It is the vendor’s ability to create new and valuable features that allows them to compete in a market which results in continuous research and development. Standards are not defined to quash innovation nor to replace product functionality, rather they define the interface that enables these innovations to be adopted by all users, irrespective of what other infrastructure they have in place.

Is there a danger of consumers being locked into vendor products when purchasing new storage technologies that are proprietary or have not yet been standardized?

Customers should always evaluate the openness of the products they are evaluating. However, it is important to understand the role of standards which is to define interfaces and interoperability, not functionality. A product is open if it conforms to the open standard and ‘plays nicely’ with the other parts of the environment. The standard allows the end user to replace products without re-engineering their whole environment.

What advice would you give to consumers looking at purchasing proprietary/un-standardized storage products?

“SNIA has broad support from all major vendors in this market and as such the products being evaluated should support the existing standards. For products that are not SNIA compliant, the end user should insist on a nondisruptive road map to compliance.”

Is standardization experiencing difficulty in the storage virtualization space?

The SMI-S standard is continuously evolving to incorporate new technologies. Virtualization is one of the emerging areas that is being addressed.

Are there any big issues SNIA is currently involved with or concerned about?

The flip-side of standardization is certification. SNIA’s other major value it brings to the end-user and vendor community is being able to verify an individual’s ability within storage networking. SNIA works with training providers to ensure the content being delivered equips students to become professionals within this area; then SNIA enables people to verify their skills through standardized testing to become certified. The feedback SNIA is receiving from major companies is that they value the SNIA certification when evaluating a prospective employee’s skill level.

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