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Storage Strategies - Thursday, May 13, 2004

SMI: Will The Spec Ever Get Respect?
By Jon William Toigo

A reader in Belgium e-mailed me in response to my recent columns on the
Storage Management Initiative-Specification (SMI-S) to offer his two
Euros. He wrote that, in his view, SMI-S and its core Common
Information Model (CIM) are "critically important" to solving the
storage management issues frequently raised in this column. He
couldn't understand why we weren't more positive in our treatment of
the technology.

My response is, quite simply, that SMI needs more folks like this
reader. Over the past three years of writing columns for Enterprise
Systems, I have dedicated a lot of ink to SMI-S and CIM -- at least
nine columns by a cursory count. Some of these have criticized the
hype around CIM and the process by which the spec was being developed,
but I have always endorsed the concept itself.

Version 1 of the SMI spec was officially announced in early April at
Storage Networking World in Phoenix, AZ. It was, in fact, the only
real news of that particular show. And, I must admit that I was
awestruck by the unprecedented level of cooperation shown by the vendor
community in developing the specification.

Version 1 isn't a complete job, but it's a start -- and a good one --
that describes how SMI can serve as middleware between storage devices
and management software and the storage administrator, providing a way
for storage consumers to simplify and streamline storage capacity
management. What you don't get from the document, and shouldn't, is a
sense of the political machinations that were required to pull it off.

For one thing, some overly enthusiastic advocates hyped CIM early on as
a panacea and claimed it could do things that it clearly couldn't,
doing more damage than good. These "disruptive revolutionaries" were
reined in, but not before they alienated many vendors from
participating in the SMI-S process.

Secondly, using SNIA as the arena for developing the spec was
problematic at best. A lot of software folks see SNIA as a hardware
vendor-dominated organization and treat the organization as an
anathema. Even Microsoft has kept the SMI-S development effort at
arm's length.

Thirdly, the engineers involved in SMI have focused first on
cultivating the support of hardware vendors and are now turning their
attention to software vendors in an effort to get CIM "providers" built
into storage products entering the market. This bias has been at the
expense of the effective cultivation of end-user appreciation of the
business value of the technology -- a huge mistake in our view, but
again a reflection of SNIA's vendor, rather than consumer, focus.

Why is it a huge mistake to ignore end users? Simply put, if there is
no grassroots support for SMI-S, there is ultimately little incentive
for vendors to build CIM providers into their gear. We have received a
lot of pushback on this point from SMI backers, who cite the labor
savings value to vendors if CIM support becomes real. That said, a
common reason cited by vendors for their failure to add providers to
their products is that no one in the consumer world is clamoring to buy
it -- and certainly no one seems willing to pay extra for it.

SMI advocates acknowledge that (1) a generally lousy job has been done
to educate the end user about the business value of SMI and CIM, and
(2) the best that can be hoped for is that SMI-S will become a "check-
off" item in the selection criteria used by consumers in making product
selections.

On the first point, I earlier noted the poor job done by SNIA in SMI
education. I am told that they are trying to get their act together to
fix this deficit. Frankly speaking, educational sessions around CIM
from SNIA have been downright boring. The combination of PowerPoint
eye charts and monotone explanations of object-oriented programming and
meta-modeling techniques had the tendency to suck the life force from
even the most starry-eyed CIM acolytes. Without a significant
improvement in consumer outreach, I seriously doubt whether CIM/SMI
will achieve even the status of a "check-off" item in consumer product
selection.

"Check-off" is a code phrase, by the way, that communicates both a
subtle wisdom and a warning. Translated from SMI-speak, it means that
vendors should not expect consumers to pay extra for CIM providers that
they engineer into their products. The subtle warning part is that CIM
support is something that vendor products will need to have, or
consumers won't buy their products -- period. SMI advocates are saying
that CIM-based management is somehow inevitable and everyone had better
join in or be left behind.

Vendors who haven't jumped on the SMI bandwagon, or who became
discouraged with the SNIA process and jumped off the wagon, don't
appear to be intimidated by this line of reasoning. It is less a
matter of inevitability than a simple case of cost/benefit analysis:
SMI-S may be the best thing since sliced bread, but it won't be
executed if consumers don't demand it.

You would probably see SMI executed by everyone if it had the
enthusiastic support of end users, and to some extent, of Microsoft.
With the SNIA trying to figure out how to sell itself as both a vendor
pitchman and a user ombudsman without sounding like someone peddling a
floor wax that is also a desert topping, end user support is slow in
coming.

Bottom line: There are obvious advantages to an SMI-instrumented
storage environment that go to improved efficiency and potentially huge
management cost savings as well as improved troubleshooting
capabilities that accrue to the SMI view of storage. We believe in the
spec, but we are dubious of SNIA's ability to sell it to consumers.
Perhaps the SMI crowd needs to look outside SNIA to build the end-user
momentum they need to succeed.

Let me know what you think: jtoigo@intnet.net.

Copyright 2004 101communications LLC.

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Last Modified: March 9, 2008