Storage Reality Check – Open Systems Standardization

Wanting It Both Ways

Customers want it both ways, which is their fundamental right as consumers and controllers of purse strings. The answer from the open systems industry would seem to be: raise the bar on standards functionality, so that rich features can be provided across the board while maintaining openness and interoperability.

Fibre Channel, which is fairly well entrenched in mainstream enterprise networks, will probably witness continued antagonism between proprietary and open systems currents, especially as the technology moves to more network intelligence and faster speeds. The jury is still out on IP-based storage technology, though, whose adoption is just beginning to gain momentum. The standards development for iSCSI has been accompanied at every step with practical interoperability and standards compliance testing. At the same time, Microsoft is promoting its own compatibility matrix for iSCSI devices, which is fine for the Windows world but does little for Linux or Unix users.

Unlike iSCSI, neither FCIP nor iFCP were accompanied by practical standards compliance or interoperability testing. Despite the fact that multiple vendors are concretely implementing FCIP in product, there has been no attempt to promote or ensure multi-vendor compatibility. Why? Because, unlike iSCSI products, customers are not expecting or demanding interoperability for SAN extension, and vendors will be the last ones to put that idea in customer’s heads. The assumption on both sides is that the customers will buy a pair of SAN extension gateways from a single vendor — McDATA-to-McDATA, Cisco-to-Cisco, Brocade-to-Brocade, CNT-to-CNT, and so on.

So although those vendors sometimes accuse iFCP of being single-vendor, all FCIP solutions are in fact inherently single vendor. iSCSI, FCIP, and iFCP are all open systems standards, but today that openness is at the protocol definition level, and does not necessarily trickle down to practical interoperability for real products and real customers.

Storage Virtualization in the Same Boat

The jury is also out on storage virtualization, which may in the end not readily lend itself to open systems standardization. We have seen a common vocabulary develop for virtualization methods and processes — e.g., in-band, symmetrical, out-of-band, asymmetrical, pooling, snap-shots, etc. — but each vendor may implement these methods very differently.

Like other complex applications, storage virtualization sits on top of an open systems infrastructure but is unlikely to accommodate interoperability between virtualization programs (e.g., DataCore, VERITAS, and FalconStor in a single complex environment). Will this bother customers? Probably not, except for the unfortunate IT manager who inherits an eclectic array of heterogeneous storage and virtualization solutions as a by-product of a company merger or acquisition.