At Storage Networking World last week, something seemed out-of-place, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it until I looked at the schedule of events -- then it hit me. The Storage Management Initiative (SMI) was no where to be found. Not on the conference agenda break out sessions, not in the pre-conference tutorials, not at any vendor booth, no where. Basically SMI-S was "missing in action". With all the hoopla and trumpeting of technologies and initiatives like Green Storage Initiative (GSI) and Fibre Channel over Ethernet (See Nik's post on this) the lack of SMI-S coverage would have been easy to miss. This seemed strange to me until I realized something else. The marketing effort for SMI has really dropped off also. This is very concerning for a couple of reasons. First, the lack of marketing means that the value proposition for SMI-S (interoperability, vendor choice) is not getting out. Second, it seems to suggest that the companies participating in the initiative -- I'm talking about IBM, Sun, Dell, Symantec, HP, and others -- are not ponying up the marketing people to champion the effort. Could it be that the marketing people at these companies realize that the value proposition for SMI-S is less than stellar? Or do they realize that working on SMI-S is a low priority effort and amounts to a career cul-de-sac job? Whatever the reason, the conspicuously missing marketing folks for the technology raise a lot of questions and concerns over the viability of the management technology. Without a concerted marketing effort, SMI-S amounts to a technology-for-technology sake initiative.
To be fair, Nik and I talked with Vincent Franceschini (SNIA Chairman) and Wayne Adams (SNIA Treasurer and Chairman Emeritus) about the situation. And to their credit, they both acknowledged the problem and defended the position to not put SMI-S front and center this year at SNW. According to both, the marketing situation is serious and will be addressed within SNIA in the next few months (although no direct plans were disclosed). The decision not to make SMI-S front and center at SNW is a good one I think. SNIA needs to focus on issues that have a high impact on IT industry today; these include lowering IT costs through energy efficient storage, lower-cost infrastructures (Ethernet storage like iSCSI and FCoE) and storage security (Storage Security Industry Forum). And, there is a feeling that SMI-S needs to be moved to the mainstream -- in other words, SMI-S just comes with the product you would buy. In fact, certified SMI-S certifications and implementations are out there (believe it or not). Products like Tek-Tools Storage Profiler are now using SMI-S, and the SMI-S Conformance Testing Program includes several storage products that claim SMI-S certification. But, one-click down reveals more than meets the eye. Notice on the Conformance Testing Program Page that only seven -- yes seven -- clients are SMI-S v1.1 certified. This means that there are only seven client applications that -- in some way -- use SMI-S (and may not meet your needs). Also, the dirty little secret to the SMI-S conformance testing program is that both the client management app and storage product don’t have to enable any real manageability to pass. The client simply needs to be able to discover an SMI-S implementation (CIMOM and provider for a storage product) and read one object. The storage products simply need to be able to be discovered and have one object to read. No real management functionality required. This is a huge hole in the program and probably why so many storage products have the certification.
Now, I'm not one to go off the deep end and say that SMI-S is the worst thing ever, like other analysts might be inclined to do. But, at some point you have to ask, how much steam does SMI-S have left in it? If none of the marketing folks are willing to stick to it, SNIA is ready to move on, and the certification program can allow vendors to present SMI-S as a checkbox rather than full-on functionality, what does that say?
For the customer, all of this may be a no-op. We all know that storage management is an issue, but if a storage management vendor can create a solution can abstract away the intricacies of a HW vendor's unique APIs and provide some level of storage vendor choice then, who cares about the underlying plumbing? And in the end, that may be what keeps SMI-S from making it. But until we have a management application like that in our hands, the jury is still out on SMI-S. And customers, don't be fooled by management apps and storage products claiming SMI-S certification. Any vendor touting SMI-S certification should be scrutinized for functionality. In fact, I'm considering writing a sample RFI for customers to root-out SMI-S functionality claimed by vendors. Would this be of help?
What do you think? Will SMI-S become the storage management API of the future? I'd like to invite members of SNIA and storage vendors alike (especially marketing folks) to chime in. Until then, I'll continue to beat this drum; seeking validation through blogs and our Catalyst conferences.
[posted by: Drue Reeves]